A Twitchers Treasure - Goldcliff Lagoons

April 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Many people will be aware of the RSPB Newport Wetlands reserve located South of Newport in Nash, adjacent to Uskmouth Power Station. With its annual visit of Bittern, Bearded Tits, abundance of waders and the well visited Lighthouse - it's a smashing place to go for a walk, venturing to the sea-wall and the estuary of the River Usk, binoculars in hand and kids in tow! However, on the far Eastern side of the reserve is a lesser known area, and is an absolute treasure for birds - and birders alike - Goldcliff Lagoons.

No hiding from the hides

Hide at Wetlands LagoonHide at Wetlands LagoonOne of three hides at this location

At the Eastern side of the reserve there are four hides in total, three of these are adjacent to several large brackish lagoons, and there is a relatively new hide located about a mile further inland on the grounds of Red House Barn, which also serves as the office for Natural Resources Wales and their local warden who, together with the RSPB, manage the reserve. For any serious birders reading this, sadly I've not been fortunate to have seen it myself yet but there have been several sightings recently of a Glossy Ibis from the Red House Barn hide! Definitely something to keep a beady eye out for and, if seen, to award oneself with a well deserved ✅  in ones life-list!!

Anyway, enough speculative Ibis chat, and onto my recent visit.

The first hide one meets in the group of three at the lagoons is well hidden from the road, but nonetheless is easily found. At a small grassy car parking area, Natural Resources Wales signage encourages you to remain on the paths and warns of the dangers of electric fencing (used here to stop predators such as foxes, badgers and farm cats from getting to the birds).  It is also worth noting that each of theses hides has very good wheelchair access (not including open grass one needs to cross to actually get to them which is muddy in places). Its location affords great views across several of the lagoons and it is easy to spot Redshank, Greenshank and many species of wader which are all regularly seen here, without any difficulty. 

View from hide 1View from hide 1View from hide 1 Of course, an improved view is always obtained using a pair of binoculars - the views across the lagoons from these three hides are totally unobstructed and so any half decent pair will yield additional sightings, or better still, use a spotting scope for close up scrutiny and identification. For those interested, the images here were taken using a combination of (1) shots taken with my 70-300mm lens and DSLR, and (2) shots taken using my iPhone placed against the eyepiece of my Opticron GS-665 scope - which you can see in the shot from the inside of the hide. Personally, I am delighted with the scope and would absolutely recommend Opticron spotting scopes to anyone looking for a great value device. 

Though this second iPhone/Scope combination is obviously best used for grabbing simple record shots, rather than high quality keepers, I've been particularly impressed with some of the results I have managed to obtain using this cumbersome 'hold-the-iPhone-against-the-eyepiece' technique.  So much so that I am seriously considering purchasing the correct adapter to marry the iPhone and scope. The 'placing it manually' technique is very much hit-and-miss, so I hope to be able to improve my delete/keep ratio and gain more record shots that would be otherwise unobtainable with the 300mm alone! More on the adapter as and when I do purchase one!

Avocet foraging for crustaceansAvocet foraging for crustaceansAvocet foraging for crustaceans

As is often the case at these hides, it was easy viewing on my trip today and amongst others, I spotted dozens of Avocets. Some were brooding on their nests on the central island, others loudly squalking making a commotion, and others were busily ploughing their way through the sediment in the ponds with their up-turned beaks looking for aquatic insects and crustaceans and other snacks. Lapwing are also currently in abundance, their courting rituals in evidence as they suddenly dive-bomb close to the ground and back up again!

Situated another 100yards further along the path is the second hide, again with excellent wheelchair access. There are some particularly muddy points on the grassy path leading from the 1st to 2nd hides, so if you are planning a visit and use a wheelchair, care should be taken to use the less muddy areas wide of the main path, and assistance may be required. Approaching Hide 2Approaching Hide 2Reens in the foreground  All the walking areas outside the hides are unseen by the birds in the lagoons - which is an excellent design feature for the area and causes minimal - if any - disruption when walking.  There are also natural looking screens adjacent to the hides so as you walk up the steps or access ramp, these will notionally hide your presence and not disturb any birds in the vicinity. You can see that in each of the views of the hides you need to walk up to them, and also as you walk, you're at a lower level behind grass banks beyond which are the lagoons. All making for excellent birdwatching.

Each hide is spacious and quite large, each has viewing slots on 3 adjacent sides, and can accommodate up to 8-10 people, all seated with ample views of the surrounding landscape. I am informed the hide at Red House Barn is the largest (and highest) of the four on this Eastern side of the reserve - though having yet to visit I am not sure by how much. The second hide along the lagoons, though not considerably closer, is nonetheless situated slightly nearer to the waterline, and thus may provide you with opportunities for closer views of the waders as they pass by. Wetlands LagoonRedshank searching for aquatic insectsAbout 100yds away from hide  There are also very often Reed Buntings and Skylarks in the grass leading to the waters edge, so keep an eye out for these, too! 

I managed to capture a handheld iPhone shot through my Opticron scope of a lovely looking Redshank, still sporting its Winter plumage. Not the highest quality I am sure you'll agree, and only a record shot [us birders love record shots], but surprisingly clear I feel for a handheld capture at an effective focal length of >1200mm (the combination of smaller sensor in the iPhone used in conjunction with the zoom-magnification on the HDF eyepiece I use complicates the equation calculating effective focal length, hence my use of the 'greater than' symbol).

Particularly pleasing on another recent visit was managing a life-tick, and excuse the pun, when I spotted a Spotted Redshank on the far bank. I only suspected it was a Spotted Redshank and fortunately had this confirmed to me by an avid and more experienced birder who was also in the hide at the same time.  Always great to get lifers, eh.

Walking from hide to hide, it bodes well to look closely into and through the hedgerows and brush, keeping ones eyes and ears open, listening to what is about. It's spring migratory arrival season, and the hedgerows are full of an array of Warblers and Tits, as well as the usual resident songbirds.

   Chiffchaff in the spring sunshineChiffchaff in the spring sunshineLocated by its song Chiffchaff - I think!!Chiffchaff - I think!!Blending well with the gorse!

It was very easy to locate what I think was a very loud Chiffchaff with its uniquely identifiable call, and I managed to get a few quick grab shots with the 300mm before it scurried off to the other side of the bushes. This looks like a 1st year juvenile to me, with slightly unclear facial markings. The second shot from the rear shows more clearly defined wing feathers, which is what suggested to me it was a Chiffchaff.  I may very well have the ID wrong and it could perhaps be a Willow Warbler - feel free to drop me a message on twitter or in the comments on here if you can offer further advice, it would be more than welcome.

Managed reenNRW Managed reenLook out for Coot and Moorhen It's also worth keeping an eye out in the reens for the usual Moorhen and Coot, of which there are many. The water levels on the reens are managed by NRW, and I had a discussion with the warden recently who said the water level in the lagoons recently has been a little too high, so they took steps to reduce it further such that there was more muddy bank available for the waders before the grass verge and reeds.  Effective conservation and land management eh!

Continuing South on the path to the sea wall, then a right turn heading West towards the third and newest hide of the three at the lagoons.

NB: It must be noted here that if you are using a wheelchair, access to this hide might prove rather impractical.  Though as with the other hides, there is a shallow inclined ramp for wheelchair access at the hide itself, to get to the hide there are several very muddy areas to wade through which are quite honestly totally unsuitable for wheelchair access. It's quite precarious even for able bodied, as one slight slip in the mud and a hand might naturally reach out for support to avoid falling - right onto an electrified fence!! Ouch!  Take care when walking here, it's not dangerous but though there are plenty of sings warning of the electrified fencing, one does need to be aware.

The view from inside hide 3The view from inside hide 3Southernmost hide at the lagoons, adjacent to the sea wall

Hide Number 3 is my Fav

Personally, the third hide is my favourite, in that is is the furthest from where you may have parked, and so it is the least used and certainly the most peaceful. Tranquil is a word that immediately springs to mind.

At this hide one is also situated immediately adjacent to the sea wall, so when the tide is receding, the retreating waders and gulls can be seen, sometimes in their thousands, feeding on the muddy banks of the River Severn.  The sea wall is also the regular haunt of the reserves oft seen Marsh Harrier, regularly prowling low to the sea wall then quickly pouncing down over the lagoons when in hunting mode. Though I have been fortunate to have seen it several times, I haven't been successful as others in getting any photographs! *makes note!

The views from inside this hide offer the best of the three, in my opinion. There are once again - beautifully clear and totally unobstructed views of three lagoons, and for me, most notably for the better part of the day the sun is positioned behind the hide allowing for flare free and well lit images to be obtained.  It must be said, Natural Resources Wales have done a grand job in positioning this wonderful jewel of a hide and is well worth a visit if you have not been previously. It is for me, an awesome location, somewhere I am happy to sit and watch the birds for many, many hours. Please NRW, can I live there? (answers on a postcard

Seen on several of my recent visits, and depending on tide times, a flock of Black Tailed Godwit can often be found in one of the pools. I counted 13 last week, and 11 this week - not sure how many there are in this shot! Flock of Black Tailed GodwitFlock of Black Tailed GodwitAll facing into the slight breeze, preening and relaxing! Their reddish breast plumage and long beaks can clearly be seen.  I think there is a Redshank to the right, too - maybe someone can confirm!  These birds are preening, and notably they are all facing into the slight prevailing wind which I presume helps in some way!

Incidentally, the markers you can see on the far bank and at other locations in the lagoons (#31 to the left in this image) are placed on the ground prior to the nesting season so as to cause minimal if any disturbance to the birds during nesting. When nests are subsequently located a record of which marker they are positioned closest to is taken as a reference point.

Images obtained with 300mmImages obtained with 300mmShowing the field of view

I try to show here the scale of what can be seen and photographed using a 300mm lens. (Please click on the image for a larger view)

The Black Tailed Godwit were just out of the view of the 11-22mm lens I used to take the inside-the-hide shot, but the small circle illustrates where they were positioned. Google maps suggested to me that the distance between the hide and where those birds were positioned is around 140 yards, so this shot gives you an indication of what can be achieved with patience and some average photography kit. 

No photographs for these, but some other notable species I have seen over just the last 3 weeks include;

Mistle Thrush, Wren, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Whitethroat, Skylark, Lapwing, Greenshank, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Canada Goose, Carrion Crow, Herring Gull, Black headed Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull (having food stolen from mid-air it by a Herring Gull!!!) Little Ringed Plover (also seen mating!), Spotted Redshank, Swans, and more that I am unable to recall currently.

Peackock ButterflyPeackock ButterflyBasking in the early spring sunshine

Not Only Birds...

It really is a haven for waders, seabirds and the like, though it should be said - not only limited to birds. There are plants and wild flowers in abundance everywhere, as well as many species of butterfly.  Whilst looking in the bushes and walking between hides one and two I spotted this Peackock butterfly on the ground with a few others, warming up in the early spring sunshine. There were many other species about too. I really must start to learn to identify and document these too, as well as the birds!

Look out for low flying Canadians!Look out for low flying Canadians!Look out for low flying Canadians!

It would be very remiss of me if I were not to warn everyone that you should also keep a look-out for low flying Canadians, too!!  With their trumpeting calls, they really are unmissable, and are present at the lagoons in their hundreds. In fact, I am not sure they are not organising a coup and are planning taking over the lagoon areas - perhaps NRW can advise if they are considered a slight nuisance or not? They do make a lot of noise, and their droppings are HUGE!!

Let me make this clear: I am not advocating any preventative action here as all species on the lagoons are a wonder to watch and record, but does NRW or the RSPB have plans to manage the population of any particular species? Will the abundance and growth of any species have a detrimental affect on any other? Feel free to comment to me on Twitter or in the comments here. I'd be pleased to hear your views - especially if the NRW Warden or representative of the RSPB read this.. 

A Well Deserved Mention for Newport Bus

I must make a special mention for Newport Bus, who run an excellent and well supported request service to Goldcliff which will drop off and pick up én route almost wherever it is safe to do so. Simply call their offices and request a time for pick-up and drop-off the day before you wish to visit (or call between 9:00 - 10:00 on the day to see what times may have already been booked).  All this for the price of a standard day ticket of £3.50 I feel is excellent value. Well done Newport Bus I say!

And Finally...

The lagoons at the Eastern end of the Wetlands Reserve are in my opinion, a Newport treasure. There is always something to see, always birds to watch, in an area that is so brilliantly and effectively managed by the RSPB and NRW. If you do pay a visit and see me down there, please do say hi.  Please also feel free to follow me on Twitter, and I am always happy to receive feedback - critical or otherwise - on my blog ramblings. I hope this article will enthuse you to dust off those binoculars and take a trip to somewhere I feel is a twitchers paradise... Goldcliff lagoons.

if you got this far and are still awake... thanks for reading 😎


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