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.
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.
And so another year, another decade has kicked off, and I started as I mean to go on, with an 8-mile walk around Cardiff Bay, immersing myself in the local wildlife. I counted 43 species of birds, found 28 species of wildflowers in bloom (more on them tomorrow), and spotted 1 moth. I finally met someone I’ve ‘known’ on Twitter for ages, and bumped into 2 fellow birders. The weather may have been shite (gloomy, partly foggy, partly low cloud, sometimes drizzle) but it was a mighty fine way to jump start a new year.
My good camera didn’t come out often as it doesn’t like the wet and the photos I did take are very grainy due to the poor light, but I’ll include a couple anyway.
There were 14 Turnstones along the Ely embankment today, 7 of which ventured up on to the pavement – never seen that before. Lingered watching for quite a while …
For those who like lists, the birds were: Robin, Lesser black-backed gull, Feral pigeon, Starling, Great tit, Blackbird, House sparrow, Woodpigeon, Herring gull, Carrion crow, Dunnock, Blue tit, Long-tailed tit, Magpie, Cormorant, Coot, Great-crested grebe, Mallard, Goosander, Grey wagtail, Turnstone, Collared dove, Mute swan, Redshank, Tufted duck, Wren, Blackcap, Black redstart, Moorhen, Pied wagtail, Raven, Goldfinch, Song thrush, Little grebe, Linnet, Reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler, Shoveler, Sparrowhawk. Pochard, Grey heron, Meadow pipit, and Jackdaw.
Normal weather service (i.e. wind and rain) has resumed here today but yesterday, Christmas Day, was glorious – blue skies, cold but no wind, so I took myself on a 6-hour 8½-mile walk right around Cardiff Bay. I saw 44 species of bird (and dished out some Christmas seed to a few), and had some nice chats to random strangers. The birding highlights included …
Grey wagtails and my favourite little Turnstones on the Ely embankment
Seven Linnets in a tree
A Moorhen and a Little grebe at Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve
The day’s surprise, a Great spotted woodpecker in trees, also at the wetlands reserve
Two Cetti’s warblers seen (and more heard), plus a lovely male Stonechat
A Common gull puddling for worms with the Black-headed gulls in Hamadryad Park
It’s been a few weeks since I bussed to Sully and walked back to Penarth so, when I realised today’s high tide was mid morning, I headed off. And I was lucky.
When I first arrived at the beach there was a large flock of 21 Ringed plovers flying back and forth over the water, and further west a large flock of Oystercatchers hovered right on the water line.
Nearer at hand was a mixed flock of around 35 Turnstones, 13 Ringed plovers and 3 Dunlins, though I couldn’t actually see all the birds at once – they were scuttling back and forth to avoid the rising tide, and frequently disappeared behind small rocks and larger boulders.
Dogs and their owners kept flushing the birds, which meant I didn’t manage any good photos, though their frequent flying did allow me to count them more easily.
What a wonderful long walk I had around Cardiff Bay today! Here are some of the birds I spotted along the way.
There were nine Goosanders in total, four in the River Ely where it flows in to the Bay and another five further east, in the Bay proper.
My favourite little Turnstones, again four along the Ely embankment and more near Mermaid Quay.
Linnets, a small flock of six flitting about the grassy slopes of the Barrage.
Pied wagtails – I lost count of these cheery little characters who appeared wherever I wandered.
One of several Great crested grebes that live in the Bay, constantly diving for fish.
I was getting ‘the look’ from this Black-headed gull, in the pond at the wetlands reserve, for not supplying food!
This Coot was also hoping for food.
This Chiffchaff was a surprise – it’s either very late migrating or has decided to over-winter in Britain, as some now do. Interestingly, I saw a Chiffchaff yesterday too, in a different location.
The best possible end to my walk – a Kingfisher peep-peep-peeped in to the pool near Hamadryad Park and perched on a branch over the water.
The yellowing of the leaves on the tree outside my window, my sightings of migrating birds, the cooler night-time temperatures have all been telling me for a couple of weeks that autumn is on its way, something the calendar will agree with tomorrow. But, for me, one of the true indicators is the arrival of the Turnstones, back from their breeding season in Greenland and northern Canada.
The five I spotted on the Ely embankment this morning still show some of their summer colouring but those chestnut feathers will soon disappear as the birds complete their moult into winter plumage. Welcome back, my little friends!
Who was it that invented the collective nouns we use for birds? Whoever it was, they came up with some crackers, though it’s hard to see the reasoning behind some of them. A cluster of Turnstones I can understand, as they do like to huddle together at times, but a bind, a contradiction and a time-step? I suppose they do look like they’re doing a little rhythmic dance at times.
The two in my photos were part of a small cluster of seven picking and poking amongst the stones on the Ely embankment this morning when I started my walk around part of Cardiff Bay.