Bird migration never ceases to amaze me. To think that this little tiny bird has flown all the way from Africa, a journey of 5000 miles, maybe more, and that it may already have made the journey there and back several times. It was a genuine treat to see and listen to this global traveller, my first Willow warbler of the year, at Cosmeston on Friday.
While yesterday’s Clouded yellow butterfly was migrating northwards on the hot southerlies, our local birds were heading in the opposite direction, to their various wintering spots around the Mediterranean and in locations all over the African continent. They started heading south in ever-increasing numbers about three weeks ago – at least, that’s when I started noticing this year’s autumn migration. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, Swallows, Sand and House martins … for a lot of these little birds their long journey has already begun.
The first noteworthy bird for me was a Pied flycatcher, found by a local birder at Cosmeston one day, and I just happened to be right there he re-found it the following day. That was 22 July, the day I also began to notice how many Willow warblers there were everywhere – I’ve been seeing good numbers of these lovely little birds almost daily since then.
On 2 August, this Sedge warbler was a surprise find in the hedgerow on a local farm. With any luck, it will be well on its way to sub-Saharan Africa by now.
Also on 2 August, in that same hedgerow, I noticed a lot of Whitethroats, and they’re also passing through in small numbers every day now.
I’ve seen a Redstart at Cosmeston a few times – these photos were taken on 4 August and 16 August in almost the exact same location. Might it be the same bird that has perhaps found the place to its liking and is trying to fatten up before flying onward?
In recent days, I’ve also been seeing some of my favourite migrants, Spotted flycatchers (several now seen) and Whinchat (just one so far) but I’m going to post separate blogs about those superb little birds.
It’s amazing how much time you can ‘waste’ trying to take photos of all the birds that spend time in a tree. I know because I’ve spent several hours doing just that. I can watch the tree as I sit at my desk/dining table or on my living room sofa (my kitchen/dining/living room is just one big room) so it’s easy to spot birds arriving or to hear them singing and calling, but it’s not so easy to sneak over to the open window to take photos because, obviously, if I can see the birds, they can also see me! So, my clothes drying rack was moved in to service as a not-very-effective bird hide.
First up was a Blue tit – always cute and very chirpy. As the tree – some kind of ornamental cherry – is now quite leafy, it’s hard to get a clear shot and, of course, the birds don’t exactly pose for me.
Next, and returning continuously throughout the day, a couple of Goldfinches. Their cheerful twittering has been a joy in recent days.
Surprise of the day was this Willow warbler, a real rarity in my urban setting. It visited on and off for a couple of hours then, presumably, continued its migration path, heading north to the Welsh Valleys to find a spot to breed.
And so to bed … this Woodpigeon had obviously had a hard day.
autumn migration, birding, birdwatching, British birds, Chiffchaff, Cosmeston, Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, migrating birds, Pied plycatcher, Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Whitethroat, Willow warbler
My local country park, Cosmeston Lakes, has been awash with migrating birds this past week. And it’s not just me getting better at finding them – according to birders who’ve been checking the area much longer than I’ve lived nearby, this has been a bumper year for sightings.
On 24 August I found two Redstarts, a male and another that may have been a female or an immature bird that hadn’t yet developed its full adult colouration.
Also on the 24th I had a very fleeting view of a Wheatear that popped up from grass to fencepost, then was off in the blink of an eye.
On the 27th my birding friend Della texted me to say she’d found a Whinchat. That was the fastest I’d ever walked to Cosmeston and, luckily, the bird waited for me – and, in fact, stayed around most of the week so I saw it several times.
During my frequent visits to Cossie this week, I’ve seen ones and twos of Whitethroat and Chiffchaff, and tens of Willow warblers. These are the ones I spotted on the 30th.
Also on 30 August, I spotted another Redstart and, from the dark head colours, I could tell this one was definitely a male.
The week ended with a bang! My birding friend, Graham, let me know that he’d seen a Pied flycatcher with a small group of Spotted flycatchers, a most unusual visitor. Luckily, I was on the coastal path heading homeward so was able to divert towards Cosmeston and, with Graham’s help, got distant views of this beautiful little bird catching flies along the tree line. What a stunning week it has been!
Do you remember last Friday I blogged about the abundance of ladybirds at Cosmeston? They were feasting on the huge numbers of aphids on the Wild parsnip plants. Well, it turns out the ladybirds have had some competition for those aphids this week, as the migrating Willow warblers move through. I don’t think we need to worry though – there are more than enough aphids to go around!
It’s that time of year, tinged ever so slightly with sadness but enlivened with occasional moments of great excitement, when bird populations begin their autumn migration. My local Swifts have headed south for the winter and I shall miss their dawn and dusk screaming, the sound of summer for me, and there have been good numbers of Swallows and House martins swirling above Cardiff Bay, in a final feeding frenzy before they too head south.
I’ve spotted small flocks of Willow warblers and Chiffchaffs, moving through my local nature reserves and parks, stocking up on nutrients before they also begin their long flights. And, this week, a Spotted flycatcher became my 186th bird species for 2018, when I saw it passing through Cosmeston.
As well as those birds that are departing for sunnier wintering spots, there are also birds returning from their colder breeding locations to spend the winter in Britain’s relatively warm climes. I saw my first two returning Turnstones, still in their summer plumage, during a wander along the Ely embankment on Wednesday.
Also at Cardiff Bay this week have been a couple of those birds that provide birders, local and distant alike, with a quickening of the heart rate. First, a first summer Arctic tern arrived to join the Cardiff Bay bird population, and then a juvenile Little gull also joined the party, though neither bird has been welcomed by the local gulls.
I saw both birds being chased and mobbed on Wednesday, and a little later that same day my friend John caught some amazing shots of a Black-headed gull almost drowning the Little gull – luckily, it escaped. (Bird xenophobia? No one seems to know why the local gulls are being so aggressive.)
Let’s hope further newcomers are given a warmer welcome to our local waters and, indeed, let’s just hope for further newcomers – there’s nothing quite like an exciting sighting to quicken a birder’s pulse!
birding, birdwatching, British birds, Broad-bodied Chaser, Cockchafer, Common heath moth, Glamorgan Bird Club, Meadow pipit, Skylark, Small heath butterfly, St David's Vale, Stonechat, Tree pipit, Whinchat, Willow warbler
I might also have called this blog post ‘One hundred and eighty!’. Let me explain …
Last Wednesday I joined fourteen other members of the Glamorgan Bird Club for a day’s birding in the stunning scenery of St David’s Vale, near Abergavenny. We walked part of an ancient hollow way …
Beneath mighty oaks in an equally ancient woodland carpeted with bluebells …
And then, as the sun broke through the low cloud that had earlier floated across the border from England, we climbed up on to the broad open moorland, with panoramic views all around and the impressive peak of Sugarloaf looming to our right.
Most of the birds mocked my photographic skills and no-so-long lens as they perched on distant tree tops and bushes but I was delighted to hear and then see my very first Wood warbler, and then, on the moorland, several beautiful Whinchats. And those two sightings brought my year list to – yes, you guessed it – one hundred and eighty!
Our keen amateur naturalists also spotted a Small heath butterfly and two Common heath moths (this is the male; the female landed on my trouser leg so another birder got that picture), and a Broad-bodied chaser dragonfly. And we were entertained by the bumbling flights of several Cockchafers (I’ll cover those in a future post.)
My bird list for the today was: Mistlethrush, Robin, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Great tit, Carrion crow, Meadow pipit, Willow warbler, Swallow, Woodpigeon, Blue tit, Blackcap, Skylark, Buzzard, Chaffinch, Garden warbler, Long-tailed tit, Wood warbler, Stonechat, Raven, Tree pipit, Linnet, Whinchat, Wren, Cuckoo, House sparrow, Pied wagtail, Dunnock, Magpie and Jackdaw. It was a perfectly wonderful day!
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!