There must have been something in the air today as all the Grey wagtails I saw were bathing. These are two of the five, enjoying some splashing good fun.
I knew that one of the Pied wagtail’s vernacular names is Polly dishwasher but I’ve only just found out today that its cousin, the Grey wagtail (Motacilla cinerea), is sometimes known as Yellow dishwasher … and Barley bird, and Gypsy bird, and Winter wagtail, and Oatseed bird. Such fascinating names, and such pretty little birds. These two, a male (above) and female (below), were picking their way along the rocks of the Ely River embankment in Cardiff Bay this morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Mallard enjoyed a snooze near the river’s edge.
I liked the colours and patterns of the pebbles and the occasionally blue sky reflected in the river water.
This was one of two Mute swans feeding.
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.
Most of the wildflowers have finished flowering but this Green alkanet was a pretty exception.
Just a few hints of autumn showing here. I love how this path meanders through these magnificent trees.
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.
Derek the weatherman got the forecast absolutely right for our Glamorgan Bird Club trip yesterday: foggy and a bit mizzly until 10am, then the cloud lifted to leave clear blue skies and t-shirt weather – it almost felt like summer!
We twenty-two birding enthusiasts had headed north of Cardiff to the Brecon Beacons National Park – when the cloud lifted, we could see Pen-y-fan, at 2,907 feet (886m), Wales’s 10th highest mountain. The plan was to walk the lower slopes of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad National Nature Reserve, in the hope of seeing Ring Ouzels, Whinchats, Redstarts, Wheatears and possibly Pied Flycatcher, amongst other birds.
Because of the damp weather and low cloud, we began the day by exploring the woodland around the Youth Hostel across the road from the reserve and immediately had superb views of Pied flycatchers, and not only male birds but also a female who was making a start on nest building. A Tree pipit sitting high on bushes in the neighbouring fields was also a year tick for me.
After a spot of early lunch back at the cars, we climbed the slopes into the dramatic landscape of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad, the southernmost glacial boulder field in Britain. Here we had Willow warblers singing all along the stream, and frequent views of Stonechats and Meadow pipits.
Some of the party went further up the track and were rewarded with views of distant Ring ouzels – I wasn’t one of the lucky ones, but it was great that others got on to them. Then, after regrouping back at the cars, some of us took a small detour on the way home for a quick visit to the Garwnant Forestry Centre, where we saw Grey wagtails and Dippers on the river and a Red kite and Sparrowhawk overhead. And we were very lucky that the resident Willow tit showed well for us near the Centre’s car parking area. It was another splendid day’s birding!
My species list for the day was: Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Peregrine, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Crow, Raven, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Wren, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Dipper, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Stonechat, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, and Siskin. And other birds seen (but not by me) were: Kestrel, Marsh Tit, Wheatear, Skylark, Swallow, Goldcrest, Ring Ouzel, and Linnet.
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!
31 December 2017 I’m being a bit sneaky here as I managed to fit in one last walk along the embankment before the start of 2018 but after I’d written my December summary. So, on the last day of last year there were 5 Turnstones, 2 Redshanks, 2 Pied wagtails and 2 Grey wagtails, 1 Rock pipit and a couple of Crows.
1 January 2018 The very next day, New Year’s Day, I passed this way as part of a complete circuit of Cardiff Bay. It was a glorious blue-sky day but there were just 3 Turnstones present.
11 January This was another glorious day and another circuit of Cardiff Bay, though in the opposite direction. And it was a bumper day for the Ely embankment, with four Redshanks (including the ringed bird, shown above, which I’ve seen and written about previously), 6 Turnstones, 1 Pied and 4 Grey wagtails, and a Rock pipit.
16 January With 40-mph winds blasting down from snow-covered areas further north, the air temperature was hovering below zero when I walked along the embankment late morning. I wasn’t surprised, then, to find very few birds around – a single Turnstone that was wandering along half way up the embankment (not wanting to put its feet in the chilly water?), which was good for me as it was closer for photos, and just two Grey wagtails. There weren’t many birds on the river either, just a couple of coots, one Great crested grebe and several Black-headed gulls looking hopefully in my direction.
20 January I didn’t get out till late afternoon as it had rained most of the day, so the light was going as I strolled along the embankment path. But I was pleasantly surprised to see a few birds: my friends the Grey wagtails never disappoint (two of those); just one Turnstone poking away amongst the stones; and two Redshanks, including my little buddy the colour-ringed bird. Floating along the river were a Little grebe, a Great crested grebe and a pair of Goosanders – the latter were scared away by a boat cruising by and flew off towards the other side of Cardiff Bay, where I had seen a pair a week or so previously – perhaps the same birds.
25 January I detoured along the embankment on my return from a longer walk and was delighted to find six Turnstones (lovely to see so many), two Redshanks (but not my little ringed mate), two Grey and two Pied wagtails.
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.
I celebrated the solstice with an outing with my Glamorgan Bird Club buddies to Lliw Reservoirs north of Swansea or, perhaps that should read, I sweated through the solstice – it was one of the hottest days of the year and the middle of a mini heatwave. Still, you know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen (and Welshmen and a Kiwi) …
It’s a superb location. The two reservoirs were built in the second half of the 19th century, and still supply water to communities throughout south Wales. We only walked up one side of both reservoirs, through broadleaf woodland and then out onto open areas of grass and scrub and moorland, but there’s an 8-mile circular walk, which would be brilliant in cooler weather and includes large open commons of heath moorland on the hilltops.
We heard more small birds than we saw (but that’s helping me learn their songs); buzzards and magnificent red kites were soaring overhead; we heard then saw the elusive grasshopper warbler in flight; dragonflies and damsels and the odd butterfly flitted about; and there were lots of lovely wildflowers (my particular favourites were the foxgloves, tormentil and bog pimpernel). Oh and, most importantly, the locals were friendly and the cafe serves delicious ice cream!
My imminent house-moving was getting to me today and, as I’m already about two-thirds packed with a week still to go, I allowed myself an afternoon off for a long walk around my local parks for a Nature fix.
It always amazes me how many species of birds I can see in a walk around Roath Park Lake. Today it was 28: Carrion crow, Magpie, Jay, Robin, Dunnock, Lesser black-backed gull, Black-headed gull, Canada goose, Barnacle goose, Greylag goose, Mallard, Manky mallard and Aylesbury duck, Coot, Moorhen, Pochard, Tufted duck, Teal, Shoveler, Pied wagtail, Grey wagtail, Redwing, Song thrush, Cormorant, Mute swan, House sparrow, Feral pigeon and Woodpigeon (though purists might not count the Aylesbury duck, Manky mallards or Feral pigeons as extra species). Still, I think it’s an impressive total. These are just a very small selection of the photos I took …