Birding at Goldcliff and Uskmouth

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On my way to Goldcliff, I told Tim and Alan, our leader for the day, that I wanted to see a Curlew sandpiper, a Little stint, a Hobby and a Marsh harrier, as they would all be year ticks for me to add to my 2018 birding list. Amazingly, I saw three of those four – only the Marsh harrier failed to appear – and I still managed to add four new birds to my list as we also had a fly-over of four Pintails.

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Our small but enthusiastic group of eight started the day at Goldcliff, where the lagoon water levels are still very low after summer’s drought conditions – in fact, the fresh water pool is just a sea of cracked mud, awaiting some decent rainfall to refill it. It was a couple of hours before high tide and the birding started very slowly as small flocks of waders began to fly in from feeding out in the channel.

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A Curlew probed the mud for small molluscs, and one of several Little egrets flitted from place to place.

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Then the cattle started heading our way, shepherding along with them a veritable herd of Yellow and Pied wagtails.

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How entertaining these little birds are as they flit lightly up and down, snapping up the insects stirred up by the cows’ feet.

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The wagtails seem incredibly brave as they strut between the cattle’s relatively enormous legs and dice with death within an inch of a cow’s be-whiskered face, yet the cattle ignore them, probably happy to have their very own and very active insect catchers.

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The high tide was crashing against the sea wall when we eventually made our way to the furthest hide and we sheltered there, checking out Wheatears, water birds and waders, while a couple of heavy rain showers blew through. By that time, more and more flocks were landing in the pool in front of the first hide so back we stomped to turn the ’scopes and bins on those birds.

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Almost as soon as we returned, a friendly local birder put us on to some of the more special birds, and they were my year ticks, the Curlew sandpipers, the Little stint and that stunning bird of the prey, the Hobby.

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No sooner had I said I’d like to see the Hobby fly that up in to the air it went, flew a swift circuit of the pool and landed back near where it had started. Magical!

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Eventually, we left Goldcliff’s lovely lagoons and headed along the road to the RSPB’s Newport Wetlands reserve at Uskmouth. After a welcome drink, we had a wander down to the lighthouse at the sea wall, adding a few more birds to our day’s tally as we went. One of our Tims (we had two Tims on this trip) was very lucky to see a Bearded tit in flight and our other Tim spotted a couple of Porpoises just off the coast, which was a delightful way to round off a most excellent day.

My total list for the day was 59 species: Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Cormorant, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, European Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew, Greenshank, Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Swallow, House Martin, Long-tailed Tit, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Starling, Robin, Northern Wheatear, House Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting, and Wren. And there were 3 species I didn’t spot (Stock Dove, Sand Martin, Skylark) so the trip list was a whopping 62 for the day.

Birding at Kenfig

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Last Saturday was the monthly Glamorgan Bird Club walk at Kenfig National Nature Reserve on the south Wales coast and this time, as the high tide time worked in perfectly, our large group of 28 enthusiasts headed down the eastern side of the reserve towards Sker.

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With so many eyes on the look out as we walked through scrub and across parts of the golf course, we soon had a respectable total of small birds but the highlights came as we got closer to the sea. Near Sker House, a small Starling murmuration swirled about in ever-changing formations before pausing to rest on overhead wires.

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Then, we were entertained by a small party of Stonechats, dotting in and out of the vegetation surrounding a wire fence.

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Moving on, we had distant views of Curlews and godwits in a field. At first we thought the godwits were Black-tailed but, on closer examination and with the help of reserve ranger Dave’s local knowledge, they were identified as Bar-tailed godwits, not particularly common hereabouts.

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The best part of the day for me was at Sker Rocks, where we enjoyed really close views of several wader species. Small flocks of Sanderlings flitted back and forth from the rocks to the beach and, at times, were less than 20 feet away, scurrying hurriedly along the sand, poking about for food. A single Ringed plover sat alone by the water’s edge for a time, and then was replaced by four beautifully marked Golden plovers. (I got some reasonable photos of the Sanderlings and Golden plovers so will post separate blogs on them.)

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As we headed back inland, one of our younger birders, Tate, spotted a Shag fishing very close to the rocks – not a bird that’s seen much locally so a nice sighting.

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And some of us headed down to Kenfig Pool for a quick look but there wasn’t anything of note, and fishermen sitting much closer to the bird hide than they’re supposed to meant that wasn’t worth visiting.

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It was an excellent day’s birding and my species total was a very respectable 48: Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Mallard, Grey Heron, Shag, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Coot, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, European Golden Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Feral Pigeon, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Cetti’s Warbler, Wren, Starling, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, European Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Yellow Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Goldfinch, Linnet, Bullfinch, and Reed Bunting.
Also seen/heard but not by me: Sand Martin, Common Buzzard, Tufted Duck, Raven, Common Chiffchaff, Northern Wheatear, and Water Rail (this last one was a shame, as it would’ve been a year tick for me, but them’s the birding breaks!).

Bute oysters

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I called this post ‘Bute oysters’ (because I found them during a wander in Cardiff’s Bute Park last week) but maybe that should be beaut oysters because there’s no denying these Oyster fungi are sculptural beauties.

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And I called them oysters but I’m not actually sure what they are – mostly likely some type of Oyster (Pleurotus sp.) or Oysterling (Crepidotus sp.). I gave up trying to identify fungi species a year or so back when I realised that you really need a microscope to have any chance with most of them and I decided I didn’t want to go down that route.

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I still enjoy looking at them and admiring their beauty though.

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A Mallow

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This beauty is definitely a Mallow (Malva sp.) but it seems paler than the Common mallow (Malva sylvestris), whose flowers are usually a much deeper pinkish-lilac with even darker stripes.

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I found it growing on Penarth’s rail trail, a railway line to Barry that fell foul of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s and has since been converted, in part, to a much-used walking and cycle path. The trail is edged on both sides by houses so this plant could very easily have flitted over a back fence or been dropped as seeds by birds. Whichever, its flowers are a very pretty addition to the foliage that lines the trail.

White vs Pied wagtails

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It’s taken me a couple of years to find and recognise White wagtails for myself. I would hear other birders talk about them and look at the photos they posted, but not really see any difference between Pied and White wagtails. Finally, I found some and it was immediately obvious they had a different look.

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To be clear, these are not two different species of bird: Pied Wagtails (Motacilla alba yarrellii) and White Wagtails (Motacilla alba alba) are different subspecies of the same species, which rather confusingly is known as the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba).

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In Britain, we mostly see Pied wagtails, with the Whites passing through during the spring and autumn migration periods, and the White wagtails tend to have a much lighter grey back and a very clean, white belly and flanks.

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Thanks to an excellent blog post I found, I discovered the reason why it was easier for me to tell these particular Whites from the Pied wagtails they were with. The blog has much more detail but, essentially, the Whites complete their moult sooner (usually by the end of August) because of their need to migrate in peak condition from northern latitudes (most of our western Britain White wagtail migrants pass through from Iceland to the southern Mediterranean and Africa, and vice versa), whereas the Pieds, being mostly resident in Britain, don’t complete their moult until mid to late September.

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So, the plumage of the Whites I saw looked clean and crisp and fresh, whereas the Pieds were still looking rather scruffy, as you can see below.

A jovial of Dunnocks

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Apparently, a jovial is one of the traditional collective nouns for the Dunnock (Prunella modularis). Now don’t get me wrong, I love these little brown birds, I really do, but jovial is not an adjective I would normally use to describe them.

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Indeed, I can empathise with the sarcasm of this birder’s comments: ‘Any birdwatcher worth his salt knows of the joy brought about by watching a dull brown bird dullishly dull about in a dull shrub. Indeed, I find myself incredibly jovial every time I think I’ve seen a good bird and it turns out to be a dunnock.’

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However, while this little fledgling didn’t look anything like jovial, it certainly did make me smile. And, though my wander around Cosmeston produced some nice migrating birds, the highlight of my Monday was watching this little dumpling hopping along the path in front of me.

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Rocking the samphire

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This lovely blast of botannical sunshine I found flowering on the clifftops at Lavernock is Rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum).

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I’ve never eaten it – apart from the occasional blackberry at this time of year, I’m not a forager – I like to leave things to be appreciated by everyone and eaten by the wildlife that needs it more than me (anti-foraging mini-rant over!) – but I believe it can be eaten as a vegetable and is also used in pickling.

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In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the word samphire was once sampiere, from the French (herbe de) Saint Pierre or ‘St Peter(‘s herb)’. And in my trusty Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey writes

In the nineteenth century rock samphire from Dover and the Isle of Wight was sent in casks of brine to London, where wholesalers would pay up to four shillings a bushel for it. Shakespeare knew the plant from the south coast, and in King Lear, in a scene near Dover, has Edgar say to Gloucester, ‘half way down / Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!’

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Even if I did want to try this particular Rock samphire, its location is completely inaccessible to all but the most foolhardy. But one huge bonus of photographing a plant that grows along cliff edges is that sometimes, if you’re really lucky, a cute and curious little Rock pipit will pop up to see what’s happening.

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A walk along the Taff

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On Friday, after I’d paid a visit to the tree I’m following, I enjoyed a stroll along the trail in Cardiff’s Bute Park that meanders through mature woodland alongside the River Taff. Despite this summer’s drought conditions, the recent rains have revived the local trees and plants so everything was looking wonderfully lush and vibrant.

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A female Goosander sailing down river was a pleasant sight. Both males and females can often be seen on this part of the Taff from autumn through to spring.

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Near the far river bank, a Grey heron stood tall on one of the many exposed rocks and boulders. The river is quite low at the moment.

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There weren’t a lot of signs of autumn yet – only the leaves of the Horse chestnuts were yellowing and curling up and beginning to drop.

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A Speckled wood was well camouflaged on the woodland floor. There weren’t many butterflies around, just half a dozen Speckled woods and a few Small whites.

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A Mallard enjoyed a snooze near the river’s edge.

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I liked the colours and patterns of the pebbles and the occasionally blue sky reflected in the river water.

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This was one of two Mute swans feeding.

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I’ve seen this particular Carrion crow many times before when I’ve walked this way. I know it’s the same crow, not because of how it looks but because it has virtually no voice. It tries to croak but hardly any sound comes out.

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Most of the wildflowers have finished flowering but this Green alkanet was a pretty exception.

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Just a few hints of autumn showing here. I love how this path meanders through these magnificent trees.

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The woodland trail finishes just below Blackweir, where the current low water level means many rocks and boulders have been exposed. This was the perfect spot for a group of perhaps 20 Grey wagtails to fly-catch, and watching their aerial antics was the perfect end to my wander alongside the Taff.

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I’m following a tree: September 2018

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I expected my tree, this magnificent Acer pictum aka Acer mono, to be looking a little autumnal when I visited it in Cardiff’s Bute Park on Friday, but no.

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There were leaves that almost looked burnt, were dry and curling up, but that looked more like a hangover from the several weeks of drought and high temperatures we had in July and August, rather than the slow changing of colour you’d expect to see during autumn.

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Spot the Speckled wood butterfly perched high in the canopy – one of two I saw up there.

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Most of the foliage was still looking lush and vibrant and very green.

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Though a few lay scattered beneath the tree, most of its seeds were also still attached. I brought a couple of seed pods home, thinking to look at the seeds inside them. It wasn’t until I checked them later that I realised all the seeds had burst out of their pods. Next time …