Spring has finally arrived, or is this week of warm weather summer, and spring has decided to have a year off? It must be spring as Springwatch starts on Monday from RSPB Ynys-hir. I am like most of you I simply can’t wait for the show to get started. It is definitely one of the TV highlights of the year for me.
I decided to get out and about with the scope this week. I don’t take the scope out often enough really; I am usually weighed down with a long lens and a camera. I had a glamorous assistant with me in the shape of my wife, Dawn, and my trusty side kick Nigel, who knows a thing or two about the Uskmouth and Goldcliff area.
We headed to the Goldcliff end of the reserve first. It is the first time I have been there since the new hide has been open. My last visit there yielded a Great White Egret, which I blogged about being The Next Big Thing, little did I know then, that at a secret location somewhere in Somerset, two were already in the process of becoming just that by building a nest!
There were no Great White Egrets there this week, but there was plenty else to watch. I must admit, the scope does bring the scrapes to life. You forget how well camouflaged the birds are, and it is only when you zoom in you can make out waders at the water’s edge. You can, of course, also use a decent set of binoculars, but with the scope, you can start to get to grips with some of the confusion species. I still have a lot to learn when it comes to waders. During my last visit to Frampton Marshes I was introduced to the Curlew Sandpiper by a friendly birder there. I would never have known what it was if I had seen it alone. This is part of the fun of still being a beginner bird watcher, there is still so much to learn, and the best way of doing it is in the field. When it is in full summer plumage the bird is a wonderful russet red colour, when it is still in its winter plumage it is a lot easier to mistake it for a Dunlin. It was explained to me to look for a longer, more curved down bill than the Dunlin. It tends to feed deeper in the water than other waders of similar size.
The one wader I am pretty confident on is the Redshank. There were a number at Goldcliff this week. Its wonderful red/orange legs with its knees on back to front are a clear identification pointers, and its long orange beak with a black tip is a great tool for searching for food in the mud banks of the lagoons and shorelines it frequents. Keep an eye out in amongst Redshanks for their close relative the Greenshank, as the name suggests, they have green legs.
Another bird that is blessed with a splash of claret is the wonderful Oystercatcher. It is black and white like a Magpie but with a large red beak with which it can crack open oysters and it is how it derives its name. I have been fortunate to watch one feeding on several occasions at close quarters from a hide, and it is truly fascinating to see; nature provides the most brilliant tools for the job at times.
The sky was full of the sights and sounds of Lapwings. I have wanted to get a photograph of a Lapwing in flight for some time now, and with the sun beating down, the conditions were perfect for trying to get one. It is no easy task; they are very erratic fliers, changing direction and dive bombing in an instant, and all the time making their distinctive “pew-wit” call. Despite thirty to forty attempts I only managed two decent photos of the bird “in action”.
In amongst this wonderful kaleidoscope of colour and sound were dotted decent numbers of the RSPB’s favourite wader, the Avocet. Goldcliff is home to good numbers of these birds, and the new hides are brilliant places to watch them. There are probably about 30+ birds there that I saw, and one of the few places in Wales to see them in such good numbers!
We walked back to the car with the sun still shining, and wearing short sleeves for the first time this year, thinking it doesn’t have to be winter to see good numbers of waders at the shore!
And some late breaking news … A Black Winged Stilt has turned up at Goldcliff today (Friday), may even be the same one we saw at Frampton!
© All Photographs - Anthony Walton