Not a combination you see every day: a Redshank passing some golden Coltsfoot, growing near the river’s edge …
The weather has really turned autumnal over the past few days, with strong winds and heavy rain. As stormy weather means birds sometimes need to seek shelter and a place to rest, it can lead to interesting bird sightings, so I ventured out between squalls for a look. There was nothing particularly unusual but it was a treat to see my first Redshank of the autumn sitting on the embankment where the River Ely flows in to Cardiff Bay.
Redshanks are well known for being flighty birds – as soon as they spot something out-of-their-ordinary, or there’s a sudden movement within their range of vision, they start body-bobbing and, if the disturbance continues, they’ll signal their kindred with a noisy cry and fly off. That usually means every other wader in the vicinity also reacts to their alarm, and it’s why Redshanks have long been known as the sentinels of the marshes.
In my area, it’s more a case of them being sentinels of the river embankment. And now that I’ve learnt to recognise their behaviour and see that first body-bob, I know to stop, stand still and wait for them to calm down. As long as no other pedestrian comes along to disturb them, my patience and stillness are often rewarded with some lovely time spent watching them feeding or just snoozing. I’ve found it can be very relaxing watching a bird sleep.
For a Redshank, standing tall like the one in my photo is often a sign of fear, of being wary of something that might harm it, of keeping a cautious eye on an intruder. Unfortunately, in this case, it was simply my presence on the pavement about 20 feet above the water’s edge that had spooked this lovely bird, so I took this one photo and quickly moved on, to let it feed in peace.
Please try and be aware of the birds around you when you’re out walking, particularly when walking, perhaps with your dog, along a beach. Many wading birds only feed on the beach at certain times, at particular stages of the tide, so, if they’re disturbed by walkers, or dogs, or other ‘traffic’, the time they spend feeding can be shortened and that can have a very detrimental effect on the birds, particularly in the winter months.
Earlier this year, when we were in full lockdown and our Council, in their stupidity, closed the spacious local country park even to local pedestrians, I was one of many who looked for alternative places, other than too-narrow pavements, to walk, and in the process discovered a disused lane that leads to farm fields, which, this year, have not been leased for crop growing. These fields are where, in recent months, I’ve seen many nice birds, and plants like the Musk thistle I blogged about in July and the Lesser burdock from August’s Burdock Beasties. These are a few more finds from those fields.
Redshank (Persicaria maculosa)
Of course, you can find Redshank in many diverse locations – it thrives along the lane behind my flat – but it seems to be doing particularly well in this arable landscape. You may notice that Redshank bears a strong resemblance to the Amphibious bistort I blogged about on Thursday – they are both from the genus Persicaria, and, if you want to know more about this fascinating plant, I recommend you read the entry on the Plant Lore website, which will explain why one East Anglian name for the plant is ‘devil’s arse-wipe’!
Greater plantain (Plantago major)
Its name may be Greater plantain but I think this is the Greatest plantain I’ve ever seen – it was huge. The Plantlife website has some fascinating information about this plant:
A common name is Rat’s tails which perfectly describes the plant’s flowering spike. Another vernacular name is Angels’ harps because when you pull the leaves apart you get the fibres showing between. This is also the likely explanation for the names Banjos and Beatles’ guitars.
Plantain has healing powers since the leaves contain tannins and astringent chemicals, which can make them useful styptics if crushed and applied to small cuts.
Common field-speedwell (Veronica persica)
I have trouble identifying the various members of the Speedwell family but I’m fairly confident about this one – it was low and sprawling and hairy, and its solitary flowers were on stems growing from the bases of the upper leaves. A check of its seed capsules would’ve clinched it but I forgot to look at those. As its name implies, Common field-speedwell is commonly found in fields – in fact, my footpath today took me along the edge of a field where the farmer is growing maize and the soil between the maize plants was completely covered by this lovely plant with its delicate blue flowers.
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.
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!
I was delighted during today’s walk along the Ely embankment to be reacquainted with this ringed Redshank I first saw back in January 2017. You can read this Redshank’s personal history in one of my previous blogs here.
Today, on day 4 of the #7DaysofWildChristmas challenge, my search for the wild took me down to the river – the River Ely, that is – where the river flows in to Cardiff Bay and where the embankment is now edged with tall apartment blocks and where one half of the river is a marina, home to millions of pounds of water craft. It’s a path I walk often but today I was particularly delighted to see my favourite dumpy little waterbirds, the Turnstones, had returned – eleven of them – and they’d brought a friend along, a handsome Redshank that was trying uneasily to snooze while the Turnstones prospected for food to and fro.