Trapped in a little bit of heaven


I stood on the sea wall at Goldcliff Lagoons on Saturday evening watching my second fantastic sunset of the week. It was hard to believe that at 5.30am that same day I had arrived at the lagoons hoping for a nice clear sunrise only to discover that the wetlands were covered in a very thick blanket of fog.

I had walked into the reserve and could barely see where I was walking. It was incredible, as when I had gone to bed the evening before it had been so hot in bed I had only slept a little - typically just before my alarm clock went off at stupid o'clock.

On reaching Hide 1 I peered out into the gloomy darkness. In the far distance across the reserve and over the pill I could see the lights of the Farmers Arm Pub twinkling through the "pea soup" fog.

The sounds of birds could be heard everywhere even if I could not see them . There was an eerie feel in the air, the mist muffled the sounds but at the same time it felt more intimate because I had to hear my hearing more than my sight for a change.

Curlews hauntingly called out across the reserve, geese cackled and ducks quacked and whistled.

Gradually it got lighter but everything outside of the hide was caste in a white and any birds appeared as shadows and silhouettes. The world had become very black and white.

I concentrated on trying to identify the dark shapes that seem to appear and then disappear in the white mist.

The rising sun did not make any kind of appearance and failed to pierce the thick blanket of whiteness. It did get brighter but that only made things worse as everything now was caste in shades of grey and white.

I almost left the reserve thinking it was going to be complete waste of time but I bumped into my friend John "The Video" Lawton and decided to stay and keep him company for a few hours.

We walked to the Seawall Hide. As we strolled through the mirk hay bales appeared as if out of no where.

The view from the seawall was a complete whiteout. We headed down to the seawall hide and settled down for a chat. The view across Becs Lagoon was not good at all but we were hoping that by 9 am it would clear (well thats what the BBC Weather App was predicting).

John and I waited and waited but the mist clung determinedly to the ground and did not budge much. Occasionally it would lift a little and teasingly reveal some waders on the lagoon.  When these little windows of opportunity opened we seized upon them. We were also joined by some other birders so we also had more sharp eyes on the birds now.

There were lots of birds out there. Everywhere you looked there were Snipe. We counted at least thirty. At the back of the lagoon ( n the right side of the photo) a large flock of Black Tailed Godwits and other species of waders mixed in could be seen.

The mud spit that was sticking out from the right edge of Bec's Island a number of small waders were bust feeding. We picked out Dunlin, a Curlew Sandpiper, five Ruff and then something rather unexpected (with emphasis on pronouncing the letters pec - please excuse the pun).

Running around on the mud was a wader that stood out from the others. John and I gave several good long looks and got excited. After some self scrutiny and the occasional better views when the mist lifted I was happy that it was a Pectoral Sandpiper. I have seen this species several times before and its good to get to see another one of these North American vagrants at Goldcliff Lagoons.

My photos and videos are pretty awful and serve as records only.

After a short time it perked its head and neck up in alarm and took flight with a few other waders and disappeared into the gloom.

Other birds appeared however later. Two Little Stints were picked out feeding around the edges of the island and lots more snipe.

The mist did not lift. At 10.30 am it remained as thick as ever so I decided to call it today (so I thought) and headed off out of the reserve planning to head home.

I made it as far as Spitty Roundabout and hit a monster car jam. One of the Brynglas Tunnels had been closed for repairs and lots of traffic was now being forced through Newport City Center.

There was no way I was going to sit in a queue for hours so I decided to turn back to the wetlands and have a coffee at the RSPB Center at Uskmouth.

The mist began to lift a little after I had drunk my coffee so I ventured out to explore the reserve.

As the sun began to burn off the mist nature started to reveal itself. There was suddenly a lot of dragonflies about. On the paths Common and Ruddy  Darters everywhere, sunning themselves on the first rays of sun to finally break through the gloom. Several were perched on benches.

I walked along the paths through the reserve and found a Migrant Hawker quartering the air above my head. Eventually it found a spot to rest and sun itself in a nearby tree. It landed very close to a spiders web that was covered in water droplets from the mist.

The mist remained quite thick in areas and refused to ease its grip on the wetlands despite the sun starting peak through the clouds above.

I reached the iconic lighthouse that looked out over an estuary covered in white mist. I could hear the fog horns of distant ships out on the Severn. High tide was approaching and I imagined that the ships must have been starting to make their ways along the shipping lanes from the docks.

It was now 12.30 pm and I decided to return to my car and try to return home again.Once again I approached Spitty and came across scene of total gridlock. There was no way I was going to get home in that any time quickly.

I spun the car around called in to my wife and informed her that I was now trapped in the wetlands and would have to make my way back to Goldcliff and wait it all out. What a nightmare? : ) I can't think of many places better in fact to be trapped at. To me Goldcliff is like a little peace of heaven and as I made my way back to the reserve I was already wondering whether that mist had lifted.

On my return to the lagoons the mist was starting to finally lift but it stubbornly refused to leave the reserve. I walked around to the seawall hide where I hoped that big wader flock from the morning was still there. When I got to the hide and looked out on Becs Lagoon I could not believe my eyes - the mist continued to hang around.

Then divine intervention turned up. My friend Phillip walked in and he must have spoken to his boss as no sooner had he arrived the mist vaporised and all was revealed.

It was now like a completely different day. The wader flock remained but was hiding behind the large swathe of reeds that blocked our view of the lagoon behind. The Snipe however remained out in force and were spread all over the place.

A female/juvenile looking Marsh Harrier flew in from over the pill and scared the waders causing a lot of excitement. The whole wader flock took flight. I took some flight pictures of the flock and was able to pick out the a Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Redshank, Lapwings, Dunlin , Ruff, Black Tailed Godwits and a Cattle Egret in flight.

Later after the Marsh Harrier exited the reserve the wader flock returned and began to spread out and feed. Two Little Stints were seen feeding on the mud.

The light was starting to fade and sunset was approaching so those left remaining on the seawall hide decided to leave and make their way home.

After being trapped all day on the wetlands  I thought it would be silly not to stay for the sunset. I stopped to stand on the wall and that brings me back to where I started this story.

I must admit - there are a lot of worse places to be stranded in the world and as far as I was concerned as the sun went down I was trapped in a little piece of heaven.


  1. What a lovely, evocative description and photos, Blair.

    Still, I avoided my usual feelings of jealousy at missing the birds you describe.

    We are currently in Canada on what has mainly been a family trip so far, so limited bird watching but we have picked up some nice species in the short periods when we've been able to stop and look somewhere. In one smallish pool near the entrance of the Reifel bird sanctuary, near Vancouver, we saw 1 greater yellowlegs, 1 lesser yellowlegs, 3 stilt sandpipers and plenty of Long Billed Dowitchers.

    Birds within the reserve included yellow warblers, Fox sparrows, a fly-over juvenile bald eagle and more.

    Subsequently checking the sightings reports for that day, we did miss some juicy things as well, but we did what we could in the 90 minutes available.

    We also had a fantastic whale watching trip with plenty of close-up encounters with humpbacks and orcas.

    The second half of our trip should include quite a bit more birding.

    1. Thanks for the comments Paul. Enjoy the remainder of your holiday.


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