T: ‘Found anything tasty?’
R: ‘Nothing to see here. Move along.’
I haven’t tried using one of these Google maps for a blog post before – not sure I will again as they’re quite labour intensive (and this one is very simple!), but it’s good to try something different. If you’ve not seen one of these maps before, you can click on the little bird markers to see a photo and some text about the bird I spotted there, and the red line shows, very approximately, my walking route.
My first embankment stroll this month was on the third and I saw not a single solitary Turnstone – that hasn’t happened since I started doing a regular weekly count along this embankment back in September. The only birds on the stones were three Grey wagtails, and, though there were two Little grebes in the water, even the numbers of Coot and Mute swan were much reduced.
The 8th of December was a bitterly cold day, with the wind so strong it was whipping up small waves against the stones of the embankment. I’m sure that’s the reason I saw so few birds – a single Grey wagtail flitted back and forth, and only six hardy Coots braved the chilly waters, a tiny number compared to usual. There wasn’t a single Mute swan or Mallard or Turnstone, and even gull numbers were low – those that were about were flying quite low around me, as if hoping for food. I had none to give but I did try to grab some flight photos, this Black-headed gull being the best of a blurry bunch.
The 16th was cold but not sub-zero so relatively pleasant, and perhaps that’s why the Turnstones had returned – well, two of them had, and it was lovely to see them foraging along the water’s edge. I didn’t think there were many gulls about until a Black-headed gull about 50 metres from me found some food and then gulls flew in from every direction – 37 Black-headed and 5 Lesser black-backs, all wheeling and screeching and squabbling over one slice of bread.
Apart from those, there were two Mute swans, 3 Mallards, about 6 Coots, 3 Great crested grebes and 1 Grey wagtail. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the littlest of all, a tiny Wren bopping in and out of the rocks in search of insects.
The 9th of November was a ‘5 Turnstone, 2 Rock pipit, 1 Grey wagtail’ kind of day at Cardiff Bay, with a cool wind blowing through huge banks of clouds and the odd rain shower. That didn’t deter the birds browsing along the embankment edge though.
On the 15th, a beautifully marked Song thrush was feasting on berries in the small front garden of one of the apartments that sits on the edge of the embankment (see Berries and Birds a few days ago), and, as well as 2 Rock pipits and 6 Turnstones, there were 3 Redshank grazing along the water’s edge – a nice treat. Also, a Lesser black-backed gull was looking exceedingly pleased with itself for finding a huge dead fish and vociferously defending its prize with loud screeching.
On the 17th – a ‘3 turnstone’ day – the star of the show was a lovely little Linnet. I’d seen a family party of parents and two fledglings grazing amongst the rocks here back in August so perhaps this bird was one of those.
My last November wander by the Ely was on the 25th, when 3 Turnstones, 2 Linnets (nice to see them again), 2 Pied and 2 Grey wagtails, and 1 Redshank were joined by a Dunnock and a small flock of Long-tailed tits passing through the shrubs edging the walkway. Also, something freaked out a group of Coots and, rather than ‘run’ rapidly across the top of the water as they usually do, they actually flew. I’d never seen coots fly before.
Do you know about #WildflowerHour? Its aim is to spread the love of plants – not garden plants (though, of course, they are also lovely) but the glorious flowers that grow wild in Britain’s woods and meadows, alongside tracks, beneath hedgerows, beside streams, around buildings, in cracks in pavements. The idea is to take photos of the wildflowers you see, try to identify them (but others will help if you’re not sure), then post your photos on Facebook or Twitter (with the #WildflowerHour tag) every Sunday night between 8 and 9pm.
On 20 October the folks at WildflowerHour issued a new challenge: ‘our weekly winter challenge is #thewinter10 which is to find ten different wild flowers in bloom each week. Once you’ve found them, work out what they are, and post them for the rest of us to see.’ So, as I walked around Cardiff Bay on a grey, gloomy Friday, I kept an eye out for wild flowers. To be honest, I was amazed to find so many still in bloom (not just 10 but 24!). I have not managed to name them all but I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I did.
birding, birds, birdwatching, black-headed gulls, British birds, Canada geese, Cardiff Bay, Coot, Cormorant, fog, Great Crested Grebe, little grebe, long-tailed tit, Moorhen, Mute swan, Pied wagtail, starling, walk around Cardiff Bay
Thick fog hung over Cardiff Bay as I set out on a round-the-bay circuit yesterday morning and, though the fog thinned as the day went on, the day remained grey. Still, never let it be said that grey is boring. Birds there were aplenty (and wildflowers, too … but that’s for tomorrow’s post).
This cormorant was enjoying a successful spot of fishing in the old Penarth dock area, though it was slim pickings for the three Little grebes around the corner in the River Ely.
All around the Bay, on almost every man-made structure and clump of rocks near the water, Pied wagtails bobbed, wagged and ‘chisicked’.
Coots were even more numerous, and an occasional Moorhen prospected along the shoreline.
As I was watching this Cormorant drying its wings, our peace and tranquillity was interrupted by the loud honking of a large skein of Canada Geese flying in from the west.
Where concrete and buildings dominate the shoreline and there’s a notable absence of trees, the birds have adapted and perch on tree-like things.
I saw perhaps half a dozen Great crested grebes around the Bay: I always admire how long they can stay underwater when fishing. Mute swans were more numerous. They are birds of such contrasts, looking anything but decorous when flaunting their glorious white bottoms as they feed, yet the picture of elegance when preening.
The most abundant came at the end of my walk. It was standing room only for the Black-headed gulls on the Barrage.
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.
I had a super walk around Cardiff Bay yesterday …
A family of four Linnets were feeding on the Ely embankment. The seeds of Herb Robert seemed to be their food of choice.
This is one of six Turnstones foraging along the shoreline. I love their breeding plumage, which is now just beginning to change back to their less colourful winter plumage.
These House martin chicks were poking their heads out of a nest on a house at the end of Penarth Marina.
A close-up of one of a family of six immature Swans by the Barrage.
And a little further long, this juvenile Pied wagtail was slipping and sliding along the wires at the shoreline.
At Cardiff Bay wetlands, I followed a flock of tits and friends, and snapped this lovely bird. It might be a warbler or it might be a Chiffchaff – I couldn’t be sure as I didn’t hear its song and it wouldn’t show me its legs!
This young Moorhen was sticking close to the reeds while its parent was engaged in nest reconstruction, which seems just a little late in the year.
And back over the other side of the Bay, by Ferry Court, this is one of three immature Great crested grebes that were swimming around amongst the Coots, Tufted ducks and Swans.
I get alerts for sightings of uncommon birds through various Twitter accounts and my birding group on Facebook and, when I heard a Greenshank had been spotted in Cardiff Bay, I crossed my fingers it would stay around overnight and was up early the next morning to see. I was lucky and, considering they have a reputation for being flighty, this bird was uncommonly still and very obliging. When it did start a little nervous jiggle, I quickly moved on.
The Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) has gained a delightful collection of common names including barker, stiltie (in Scotland, meaning wader with long legs), greater plover, green-legged horseman, green-legged long-shank, and green-shanked godwit. As you might guess from all those mentions of ‘green shanks’, it has a greenish tinge to its long slim legs. It’s an elegant bird, I think, not large, though it is the largest amongst its close relatives the redshanks and larger sandpipers.
In south Wales, the Greenshank is mostly a passage bird, seen around coastal wetlands and estuaries and near inland waters like ponds and marshes. They spend their winters in western Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa, through the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula to Southeast Asia, and as far south as Australia, and in Britain they spend their summers in the north and west of Scotland, where they breed on upland moorlands, usually near trees, a large rock or fencepost (possibly as a visual aid to nest location).
Not just any old birds – I’m referring to the Sand martins (Riparia riparia), one of the first migrating birds to arrive in the springtime. When you start to see them swooping and diving in the hunt for insects and hear their characteristic chattering sounds, you know summer really is just around the corner.
The Sand martins have been arriving at various places along the south Wales coast for the past couple of weeks, after a marathon flight from their overwintering spots in the Sahel, south of the Sahara in Africa. For such small birds, it really is a huge effort so it’s no surprise they stop over in Cardiff Bay to refuel and rest up. Though many birds fly on to destinations throughout Britain, some will stay on in Wales to breed and raise their broods of four or five chicks before heading south to Africa again around August-September. It’s usually quite difficult to get photos of these aerial acrobats but this morning I got lucky when this little one sat and sang me a pretty song.