We can’t let January pass without at least one photo of a Turnstone, or two …
As well as seeing the Common sandpiper I blogged about yesterday, Friday’s walk along the Ely embankment made me smile for another reason – the Turnstones are back!
Fresh from their breeding season in Greenland and parts of northern Canada, looking very handsome in their darker summer plumage, perhaps still a little weary from those long-haul flights, but they’ve made it.
I love these characterful little birds. Most of the time they might seem a bit dull, plodding purposefully along the tide line, turning over pebbles and seaweed in their never-ending search for insect snacks, or sitting, a little hunched over, snoozing in the sun.
Yet I’ve also seen a large group of them, in a coastal town in southern England, in the midst of a huge storm, when the ferocity of the waves had driven them up off the beach on to an expanse of grass where large puddles had accumulated, behaving like crazy kids, chattering away happily to each other while they ran in and out of the puddles, excited, splashing and flapping their wings, and so obviously having fun.
There were four Turnstones on the embankment on Friday. Maybe they’re locals, or maybe they just stopped over for a rest before heading further south, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing many more of these special birds in the weeks to come.
Due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the fact that I don’t drive, this year’s birding has been a bit different from previous years, with no birding trips away and very limited access to public transport. I actually decided back in February, before the lockdown even began, that I would focus this year on ‘my patch’, and then along came the corona virus and I basically had no other choice.
My patch isn’t really a defined area – it’s how far I can walk from home, with the proviso that I can use public transport in one direction, so bus there – walk home or train there – walk home, though I haven’t done that since we locked down in March.
Much to my surprise, with the addition of this lovely Common sandpiper along the Ely embankment of Cardiff Bay on Friday, I have now seen 111 species in 2020. And that’s without chasing some of the birds I might have seen – a posse of Cattle egrets in Cardiff Bay one day but I’d already walked 6 miles that day and couldn’t face another long stomp; a couple of gull species that milled around in the middle of Cardiff Bay but which I find almost impossible to spot without the help of someone with a telescope; and others.
Though it’s always nice to see the more unusual birds, this has been the perfect time to get to know my local area much better, and to appreciate how lucky I am to have several different types of habitat within walking distance. And, with the autumn bird migration now getting underway and the possibility of winter bringing in a few different species, I’m excited to see what this year’s total will finally be. I’ll report back in December but, in the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the birds, like this handsome sandpiper, that pop up in my patch.
This morning’s wander took me down to Cardiff Bay to walk the path along the embankment of the River Ely, my first walk that way for a while, as there tend to be less interesting birds to see during the summer months and more people to avoid. And so it was, though there is never nothing to see.
House martins were still filling the air with their calls and zipping swiftly back and forth, hunting low over the water then taking insects back to feed their young, which must be second or even third broods now.
Large numbers of Coot and Mallard were feeding on the water weed or sitting preening on the water’s edge of the embankment, and several Swan were floating regally past. A couple fell out and were half-heartedly chasing each other.
I saw only three Great crested grebes, a low number for this location. Two were adults and one a well grown juvenile that was snoozing amongst the weed.
And I saw only two Pied wagtails, which is also a small quantity for the embankment. Their jaunty striding back and forth always makes me grin.
Yesterday’s walk along the Ely river embankment was a mix of treats and unexpectedness. The first unexpected treat was the large number of both Sand and House martins flying low along the embankment: the air around me was alive with their close flypasts and their noisy chirruping. I’ve no photos of them – I was too intent on enjoying their proximity.
Next up was the sight of a family of Grey wagtails, two adults and their three offspring, flitting about amongst the stones at the water’s edge.
While watching the wagtails, I noticed the water churning at various points along the river’s edge. It was being caused by large fish, feeding on the weed that’s growing on the stones just under the water. Thanks to one of my Twitter pals, Tate, I later learned they were Thick-lipped grey mullet, which can grow ‘to huge sizes’ and which are ‘mostly a saltwater fish but can tolerate fresh water quite far up rivers’.
After unexpectedly bumping in to a birding friend and enjoying a chat to a real live person (a rare treat in these days of lockdown), my final wild treat was seeing these two Mallard ducklings, meandering along the river with their mother.
I felt the need to see some birds today so headed down to Cardiff Bay for my exercise walk. First up, this pair of Shelducks were working their way around the water’s edge near the Barrage – first I’ve seen since the lockdown began.
This Starling had a beakful of caterpillar and flies so I presume it had hungry mouths to feed somewhere nearby.
At least fourteen Turnstones were picking and poking their way along the stones of the embankment, this one looking very handsome in its breeding colours.
This Coot was busy pulling bits of rubbish into the pile of sticks it has begun shaping into a nest. Its mate was nearby, hauling a branch to weave into the growing structure.
This was the first Rock pipit I’ve seen for a little while. It was busily prospecting for nibbles so perhaps it also has offspring to feed.
Most of the wagtails have moved away to breed but this Pied wagtail looked very handsome amongst the Herb Robert and Red valerian that now covers much of the embankment.
Today’s exercise walk saw me up and out of the house by 7am for a stomp down to Cardiff Bay and the embankment path alongside the River Ely. There was, and still is, a bitterly cold wind blowing, pushing small waves up on to the stones of the embankment so I was surprised to see any birds there at all. But the further up river I went the more sheltered it became and the embankment foragers appeared.
First up was this Redshank, poking about at the water’s edge, its feathers ruffled by the wind gusts.
Next, in a corner where rubbish often accumulates, three Turnstones were poking about amidst the branches and twigs, plastic bottles and other assorted detritus.
Two Mallards came waddling hopefully up the stones while I was watching the Turnstones. Sadly, I didn’t have any seed for them today.
Lucky last, and most colourful, was this bright little button, a Grey wagtail, which was singing a little song to itself as it pottered along.
Grey wagtails are tough little birds. It was blowing a gale here today, yet these small creatures were still out foraging along the water line of the Ely embankment, poking their needle-thin beaks between pebbles and, sadly, amongst the human detritus, to find the tiny invertebrates they feed on.
It amazes me that such small birds can fly so well in gusty conditions yet, with a flash of their bright yellow underbellies and a blast of their cheery call, they seemed to move further along the stony shore with ease.
Two of the birds pictured here are from today, the other three are photos taken during recent walks along this same path, as I’m always happy to pause and watch these cheery little bobbers.
During my early morning walk my little Redshank friend Peter (the bird ringed at Peterstone in 2016, hence my name for him) was on the foreshore where the River Ely flows into Cardiff Bay.
And he wasn’t alone – his companions included 5 other Redshanks, 21 Turnstones (a large number for this site), 1 Pied and 5 Grey wagtails, 7 Great crested grebes, 2 Mute swans, 7 Mallards, 5 Goosanders, and the usual large numbers of Coots and gulls.
Were there so many birds because they were all sheltering from Storm Brendan’s wild winds or is it simply that I need to walk early more often?
This morning’s stomp along the Ely embankment produced my first Redshank sightings there of the autumn / winter.
And they’re late – in 2017 I saw them first on 22 October and last year it was the 30th. Of course, other Redshanks may already have arrived in Cardiff Bay and I simply haven’t seen them.
This morning I saw three and, even better news, one of the birds was ‘Peter’, a ringed bird I’ve also seen in previous years (and blogged about here, and his life story is here). Welcome back, my Redshank friends!