What can I say? Sometimes I get very angry at the human race!
As we’ve had a very unseasonal high of 14°C today (this is still meant to be winter remember), it’s not surprising that birds’ thoughts are turning to nest building. Today, at Cosmeston, I saw Magpies and Carrion crows stick-carrying, a Blue tit with moss in its beak perched on the entrance hole of a conveniently placed nest box, and this Coot transporting bits of reed to a secretive location.
My regular followers will remember that, over the winter months, when there were more birds around, I posted a regular monthly roundup of the action along the embankment where the River Ely flows in to Cardiff Bay. Today, for day 15 of #30DaysWild, I thought I’d take another look. Here’s what I found …
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, birding birdwatching, British birds, Cardiff's canals, Common blue damselfly, Coot, Coot chicks, Coots nesting, feral pigeon, Fringed water-lily, Little Venice, Mallard, vegetation in canals
I had to go in to Cardiff city today to do a few chores so, for day four of #30DaysWild, I thought I’d take a wander along the old canals, an area known locally as Little Venice. The area closest to the main road is quite unkempt, but, except for the human rubbish, I like how overgrown it is – and I’m sure the wildlife does too – and the submerged plants are particularly lovely at the moment, with long streaming fronds covered in pretty white flowers.
The canals flow in a couple of different directions, both ultimately emptying into East Bute Dock, where once a million tons of coal a year was loaded on to waiting ships. The canals are bordered by various types of accommodation and office blocks, have footpaths along both sides, and in places are adorned with beautiful, currently flowering native Fringed Water Lily (Nymphoides peltata).
The canals also support a range of wildlife. Drake mallards snoozed on the warm stone edges, Common blue damselflies flitted back and forth, and a feral pigeon strutted towards me, hopeful of a spot of lunch.
The big drawcard of these waterways for me, though, is that Coots can usually be found nesting here, often very successfully. In their large sturdy nest structures, built of sticks and plant material and human detritus, I’ve seen broods of up to 6 chicks.
Today there were two pairs with quite well-grown young, and three more birds sitting, possibly with little ones tucked under their wings. And very cute they all were too!
Azure damselfly, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Bugle, Common blue butterfly, Common whitethroat, Coot, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, cuckoo spit, Dingy Skipper, Flax, Hawthorn blossom, Large Red damselfly, Mallard ducklings, Scarlet pimpernel, Swallow, tadpoles
I literally dipped in and out of Cosmeston on 2 May, for a quick look at the dipping pond to see if I could spot any Water voles. I dipped on the voles but I did see Ma Mallard and her two gorgeous ducklings, and a gazillion tadpoles.
11 May I needed to stretch my legs after spending the previous day sorting out after my birding trip so off to Cosmeston I headed. I came in from the north end via Old Cogan farm, where a pair of Swallows was sitting on the wires. I suspect they nest in the old barn as I see them there often over the summer months.
Apart from those Swallows, it was quiet on the bird front and, as a cool wind was blowing, there were no butterflies about either. So, I took lots of photos of newly blooming wildflowers …
While doing that, I found an interesting little critter mooching around on some leaves (it looked like a weevil without a long snout but I haven’t positively identified it), and I spotted my first cuckoo spit of the season (I just know you’ll be delighted with that find!).
15 May A brief walk through on my way home from Lavernock. I wandered along the edges of Sully brook and then, once again, stopped for a few minutes at the dipping pond. The bad news was that mother Mallard only had one duckling remaining – fingers crossed it makes it to adulthood. The good news was that I saw my first damselflies for the year – both Azure and Large reds were out in numbers.
17 May I passed through Cossie again, this time on my way home from Sully. A Common whitethroat was showing well in the reeds near the cafe, and a Coot was shepherding her three young offspring around the west lake. The chicks were well developed, which bodes well for their survival.
20 May This time my 3-hour mooch was all concentrated at Cosmeston. I went early to avoid the Sunday crowds and the scorching sun, and walked the east and west paddocks from one end to the other and back again, along the various trails. I was looking particularly for orchids but saw only leaves, a few with the stalks of flower buds just emerging, and for butterflies. The Dingy skippers and Common blue butterflies were out in good numbers, and it was a pleasure to watch them flitting to and fro.
24 May I went early again to Cosmeston but not early enough, as the rain came in almost as soon as I arrived and I didn’t have a coat with me. I lingered long enough to enjoy the glorious Hawthorn blossom that covers the hedgerows like summer snow, before striding quickly homewards.
Easter Sunday – April the 1st this year – is not a particularly smart day to go to Cosmeston to spend a quiet, peaceful time with Nature, but I wanted to stretch my legs and public transport on Sundays is quite restricted. So, I passed through Cosmeston on one of my circular local circuits, avoiding the main paths, taking the fields less trodden. I still managed to spot a Long-tailed tit (below left) nest-building – it’ll be cosy with a few more feathers like that, and, with the help of my friend John, I heard and then spotted my first Willow warbler of 2018 (below right), a good start to the month.
5 April Another quick walk-through, to avoid the school holiday madness, but I did pause at the place I’d recently spotted a Hawfinch, to see if I could hear or see it. No luck with that but I did spot my first Blackcaps of 2018 (above), and there were Willow warblers and Chiffchaffs (below) aplenty!
8 April Once again, I passed through Cosmeston as part of a longer walk, though I did linger for a short time by the west lake where I got talking to a fellow birder. From there, I had distant views of two Buzzards on the far shore – were they investigating a nest site? – and I got a fleeting glimpse and photos of a mysterious mammal swimming rapidly through the reeds. Was it a Water vole, a Stoat or a Mink? Debate raged on Twitter and Facebook when I posted photos and requested opinions but the jury is still out on its identification.
11 April Though the heavy rain of the previous night and morning had cleared, cloud cover was thick and low, making for a very gloomy walk around Cosmeston, and it was almost as if the birds were experiencing a similar dullness. Although I spotted several Blackcaps and many of the regulars (Blackbirds, Dunnocks, Robins, Chaffinches, etc), bird song was generally subdued.
Highlights were my first Coot chicks of the season, with the attentive parents feeding three chicks near the former bird hide site on the west lake, and Swallows swooping and diving over both lakes. I tried for about 15 minutes to get photos of them but it was very difficult to keep up with their super speedy aerobatics, so a silhouette will have to do. There’s no mistaking that forked tail though.
I passed through Cosmeston again on 16 April, but saw nothing particularly noteworthy, and then had a break to see other sites and while a friend was visiting. My last visit for the month was today, 30 April. Though a cool wind was blowing it was fine, and warm in sheltered spots. And, though I could hear bird song all around, with the trees now rapidly greening, we’ve reached that time of year when the birds pretty much disappear behind the foliage.
The good news is that this is also the time of year when the other flying creatures take over: today I saw my first damselfly of the year, a Large Red; the butterflies were out in numbers: Brimstones, Peacocks, Commas, a Large white, a couple of Orange-tips and several Speckled woods (I’ll do a separate post for those in a few days); and I also saw my first shieldbug of 2018, a Hawthorn. It was a lovely walk!
Just like their makers, nests come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re made of all sorts of materials: twigs and branches, feathers, moss, paper and plastic, mud. They can be seen high in trees and on buildings, hidden secretively away in hedges and behind reeds, or plonked in a hole in a concrete platoon, as I saw some Coots do recently in Cardiff. Some are messy and loosely constructed, others are cosy and snug, still others are miniature works of art.
This is prime bird-nesting season so it’s quite likely you’ll see nests when you’re out walking. Please stay well away and do not disturb parents, eggs or babies. In Britain (and I’m sure in most countries) it is, in fact, an offence under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to ‘intentionally take, damage, destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built’ and to ‘intentionally take or destroy the egg of any wild bird’. (You can read more details here.) And, rest assured, my photos were all taken with a long lens, well away from the birds, so as not to disturb them.
My first February wander alongside the River Ely was in the late afternoon of Saturday the 3rd. It was quiet – were the birds all watching Wales thump Scotland in the 6 Nations rugby, I asked myself? A faint peep alerted me to a Rock pipit tootling along the embankment path towards me. It had been minding its own business, looking for a lunchtime snack, when it suddenly realised there was a stonking great human standing on the path in front of it … at which point it flew off to the relative safety of the water’s edge.
Shortly afterwards, I could see a roundish form that might’ve been a rock but was, in fact, a Turnstone, the only one seen that day. And, as well as those two birds, one Pied wagtail and two Grey wagtails were in residence. One of the Greys had an interesting plumage aberration, as you can see below.
I was away for a week mid February so my next visit to the embankment was on Tuesday 20 February. A strong cold wind was blowing small waves on to the stony shore and, initially, there were no birds to be seen. But, about half way along the embankment path, I spotted a huddle of seven Turnstones, looking sleepy, enjoying a little bit of warmth from a shaft of sunlight that had reached their roosting spot from between the nearby houses. And, a minute or two later, I noticed one further Turnstone who was already meandering along, turning stones as it searched for breakfast bugs. Two Grey wagtails, hardy creatures, were also dotting about.
The twenty-seventh of February was a bitterly cold day, as Britain was in the grip of a severe blast of polar weather, blown across Europe from Siberia, and even Cardiff had a few snow showers that day (quite unusual in recent years). Hopefully, the birds had found somewhere more sheltered than the embankment, as the stiff easterly was so cold that icicles were forming on branches that littered the shoreline and there was a slab of ice at least a foot wide coating the rocks along the water’s edge.
In spite of those bitter conditions, I spied one Grey wagtail, one Turnstone, a pair of Coots, and a solitary Redshank. It made me feel cold just looking at that lovely bird standing in the icy water!
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.
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.