When the rain finally abated mid afternoon, I went to vote and then headed down to the seaside, to clear my head with some fresh air. The tide was out so I couldn’t resist having a brief fossick along the beach. It’s a stony shore and there are never many shells to be found but I did find a few nestled amongst the stones.
I found this egg case on the beach at Cuckmere Haven a week or so ago. With such a leathery, tough outer skin, it’s easy to see how well this could protect the embryo that must once have been inside.
I checked the Shark Trust website’s identification page and, given the south coast location, I think this eggcase might belong to a ray, perhaps a Spotted ray (Raja montagui) or an Undulate ray (Raja undulata).
I’m not sure where the name Mermaid’s purse came from – perhaps it’s simply because the eggcases come from the sea, are vaguely purse-shaped and hold something valuable inside them.
As their name suggests, the Turnstones that frequent the stony embankments around Cardiff Bay spend their time turning over loose stones, looking for the tiny insects, molluscs and crustaceans they like to eat. And it’s that stone-turning that has led to some of their regional vernacular names: stanepecker, in Shetland, and stone raw, in Armagh. I also rather like ebb pecker, another from Shetland, and tangle picker, from Norfolk. I haven’t been able to find a Welsh name for this bird so if there is one and you know it, please do let me know.
p.s. Thanks to my friend Ceri, I can now tell you the Welsh name for Turnstone is Cwtiad y Traeth, which translates as Beach plover (Traeth means beach and Cwtiad is plover).
This is the Black-tailed godwit in its winter plumage, a delicate combination of white below and pale beige and grey above, with just a hint of pink from the soft autumn light.
The Black-tailed godwit used to be much more numerous in Britain, with a strong breeding population. But not any more. Now, although as many as 40,000 birds come from Iceland to over-winter on these isles, just 60 pairs breed here.
The Back from the Brink project is trying to change that terrifying statistic. By monitoring the nests of existing birds, by protecting them from predators through the installation of electric fences, by providing more areas where the birds can breed, by collecting eggs from at-risk nests and hand-rearing them, the project hopes to ensure Black-tailed godwits have a future in Britain.
The birds I saw recently at RSPB Lodmoor are almost certainly birds that have bred in Iceland but they all look the same. They are large wading birds, with long beaks they use to probe the mud for snails, worms and insects – the birds I was watching must’ve been hungry as I managed to take a lot of photos with their heads under water! Their scientific name, Limosa limosa, reflects their love of mud – limosa comes from the Latin limus, meaning mud, so these godwits are doubly muddy.
Interestingly, when researching this post I found out that the female Black-tailed godwits have longer beaks than the males, which means they don’t compete for food – a fascinating evolutionary adaption.
It was hot! In fact, it was not just hot, it was scorching but, along with 15 other brave souls, I joined the Glamorgan Bird Club’s outing last Sunday to walk part of the coastal path along Rumney Great Wharf. We started at Parc Trederlerch, where fishermen were trundling their mountains of gear to favourite sites for a day’s fishing, and Swans, Coots, Tufted ducks and Moorhens flocked to be fed by strolling families.
From there we walked down towards the sea alongside Cors Crychydd Reen. Despite being choked with weed, the reen was home to Little grebes, Coots and Moorhens, all with young, as well as countless, though elusive Reed warblers.
A Buzzard was hunting from a post overlooking the adjacent landfill site, where gulls, Swifts and assorted hirundines were diving and swooping for food.
Tucking in to the blackberries as we walked, we were charmed by the sounds of Willow warblers and House sparrows, Goldfinches and Greenfinches, like this one perched high in a tree.
When we reached the sea wall, we turned left towards Newport. Here’s the view in both directions, firstly looking west over Cardiff Bay towards Penarth Head and then west across the very dry foreshore. The heat shimmer didn’t make bird-spotting easy.
Linnets entertained us as they bounced around the bushes and reeds.
We didn’t see a huge number of waders – maybe it was too hot even for them. A large mixed flock of Redshanks and Dunlins flew east, we had good ’scope views of Ringed plovers and Dunlins at the water’s edge, and gulls abounded. There was one Common gull amongst this lot perched on the posts and a Little egret further along doing the same.
There were also a ton of dragonflies and hoverflies, bees and butterflies – I’ll post more on two of those lovelies in tomorrow’s blog.
And for those who like the nitty-gritty details – I saw 42 bird species: Black-headed Gull, Carrion Crow, Buzzard, Chiffchaff, Common Gull, Redshank, Swift, Common Whitethroat, Coot, Dunlin, Goldfinch, Great Black-backed Gull, Green Woodpecker, Greenfinch, Grey Heron, Herring Gull, House Martin, House Sparrow, Jackdaw, Kestrel, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Linnet, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Magpie, Mallard, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Ringed Plover, Feral Pigeon, Rock Pipit, Shelduck, Starling, Swallow, Tufted Duck, Willow Warbler, Woodpigeon, and Wren. Also seen by trip participants were Blackbird, Blackcap, Blue tit, Canada goose, Collared dove, Cormorant, Curlew, Great crested grebe, Pied wagtail, Skylark, Robin, Stonechat and Whimbrel, bringing the total club list to a very respectable 55 species.
Thanks for dropping in to my little corner of the internet. I’m off on a birding trip for the next few days, hoping to see lots of beautiful birds to add to my #200BirdYear list, exploring parts of England I’ve not visited before and sharing good times with some fellow birding friends. My daily posts will continue – appropriately enough with a birding theme this week – so check below for the latest, and I’ll respond to any comments as soon as I get back.
At 9:20am yesterday I was on the bus to Sully, looking forward to seeing what seabirds might be scavenging along the shore at the 10:16 high tide. A bonus was seeing my first pheasant of the year in a passing field.
Walking down the long narrow path to the beach, I was immediately rewarded with the sight of Black-headed gulls and Oystercatchers looking for worms in the neighbouring field, and a Rock pipit flew up from the shore to join them in their foraging.
The beach looked empty as I strolled along the ‘coastal path’ – really just a line of rocks and mud here – but a flurry of loud peeping made me turn my head and bring the camera up in time to catch this flock of Turnstones flying in.
Further east, scanning the water’s edge with my binoculars, I finally spotted an interesting little group of 3 Turnstones, a Little ringed plover and a Grey plover, the latter two year ticks for me, and I’d not seen a Grey plover so close before (I’m still talking a couple of hundred metres away but see-able with bins and long lens). I watched them for perhaps 10 minutes before two loud women and their dog scared the birds off.
Last, but mostly certainly not least, as these beautiful birds are endangered in Britain, 28 handsome Curlews were using their long curving beaks to probe the playing fields that abut the coastal path in search of worms. After 15 minutes’ watching I left them to their feast, with a silent ‘thanks for being the icing on the cake of my lovely morning at Sully’, and strolled on …
At least once a week I take a turn along the embankment where the River Ely flows out into Cardiff Bay as it makes a nice circular walk from my home on the cliff-top above in Penarth. (It’s good exercise too, as what goes down there must walk back up!) I always record what I see – usually birds – so thought I would share my sightings in an end-of-monthly post.
A variety of birds make their home in this stretch of water, which they share with a yachting marina and associated water traffic coming and going. There are almost always Turnstones in varying quantities (from one to nine), Mallards, Mute swans, one or two Great Crested Grebes (including their progeny this year), a proliferation of Coots, the occasional Cormorant fishing, usually a couple of Grey wagtails and a couple of Pieds. Gulls fly overhead and there are plenty of hirundines, in the season.
2 October: A Wheatear, an unusual visitor, almost certainly on a migration stopover, was dotting about on the embankment stones; a Pied wagtail was doing its morning stretches, and a Rock pipit was browsing for titbits.
16 October: This was the day before ex-hurricane Ophelia made her presence felt, the day of the jaundiced yellow sky and the rusty red sun, which you can see reflected in my photo of the four Little grebes that were sheltering from the incoming weather. A juvenile Grey wagtail was dotting along the embankment, calling incessantly for its parent; and a Great crested grebe was enjoying a very successful fishing session, coming up with fish in two successive dives.
22 October: The day after Storm Brian I walked the embankment to see if any unusual birds had been blown in. The usual suspects were present, except that, most unusually, there wasn’t a single Turnstone. A solitary Linnet flitted back and forth from pavement to stones, and three rather exhausted-looking Redshanks dozed warily along the water line. One of these was colour-ringed and might possibly be the bird I saw back in March but I couldn’t see its rings well enough to be sure.
After exploring RSPB Lodmoor, our birding road trip moved on to Chesil Beach, and what an amazing place it is!
To quote a brochure I picked up: ‘Chesil Beach is a natural wonder – a bank of 180 billion pebbles stretching for 18 miles along Dorset’s coast, linking Portland to the mainland. Trapped behind the beach is the Fleet, one of the largest saline lagoons in the country and a haven for bird and marine life’.
Here we staked ourselves out behind the Dorset Wildlife Trust Centre, trying, somewhat ineffectually, to shelter from the bracing winds. The wind chill was worth it though, as we had good views of a gaggle of Brent geese and a large flock of Mediterranean gulls.
Amongst the gulls were two Sandwich terns, and the beach was also hosting the ubiquitous Oystercatchers and more common gulls, a Bar-tailed godwit and a solitary Dunlin.
A Wheatear dotted about on the grass below the pebble bank and, when we briefly stopped here again on our way home on Sunday, a Little egret entertained with its fishing antics, paddling about very successfully in the waterways. Next time I need to climb that bank!
It was a wild and windy but not wet day last week when I ventured for the first time to the incredible Gower peninsula, on a birding trip with my Glamorgan Bird Club friends.
We parked near Mewslade Beach, then walked a circuit from there along the cliff-top coastal path, across the medieval field system of The Vile, through the little village of Rhossili and then back to the car park. Most of the birds were best viewed through binoculars or ’scopes so I don’t have many images of them to share but the scenery was just stunning! High stone cliffs honed in places to a razor edge by millennia of wind and rain, secret little coves nestled between tall protective hills, the long stretch of golden-sand beach at Rhossili that was recently named the best beach in Britain and one of the world’s top ten – Gower really does deserve the adjective ‘awesome’!
Oh, and getting back to the birds – I saw a total of 34 species: Cormorant, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Peregrine, Oystercatcher, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Pheasant, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Stonechat, Dunnock, House Sparrow, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, and the two highlights for me, Common Scoter (a group of perhaps 20 floating together on the sea – seen through a ’scope) and several Gannets, flying low to the waves not far offshore, plus a bonus sighting of at least one Grey seal lolling about in the waves in one of the bays.
The group total was 46 species as I was too busy admiring the scenery to notice these: Shag, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chough, Rook, Bullfinch, Song Thrush, Common Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull. Thanks to John and Glamorgan Bird Club members for yet another fantastic day out!