Identifying birds can often be tricky. Many birds are naturally nervous so all you see is a brief and partial view. Bird song and calls are another way of getting a positive identification. Often this is the best way to discover what is around you, especially in woodland or where there is plenty of cover. As you get more experienced you learn other things about birds which can give you an idea of which species they are. Bird behaviour is therefore important when trying to name that bird. Some families of birds show similar behaviour but others can act quite differently. Ducks are an example as they feed in different ways. Some ducks just upend to feed in shallow water called dabbling; others dive and swim to obtain their food. In fact they evolve to optimise their ability to carry out these functions. The legs of dabbling ducks are located in the middle of their body to aid paddling and walking. Diving ducks have legs at the rear of their body to assist them in swimming underwater. For example, the common Mallard is a dabbling duck whilst the rarer Goosander is a diving duck. The trouble is nobody has told this to the Mallards on the canal at Goetre. They regularly dive underwater although all the field guides clearly state they are dabbling ducks. All designed to confuse the unwary birdwatcher.
Despite a constant westerly to south westerly airflow over the previous week Andrew Strong and myself made a morning visit to Goldcliff. The wind had eased a little the previous day but was back in the west at 15-20kmh by the morning. On arrival at 9am it was obvious the expected woodpigeon migration had started.
Groups of between 300 and 800 birds were moving regularly along the estuary in a south westerly direction. By 10am we had made a conservative estimate of 3000 birds and by 12pm had reached over 15,000. At times one flock had barely gone over when the next appeared. Also moving were small numbers of finches, again our estimates were very conservative as few could be seen and most just identified by calls but certainly included over 110 chaffinches, 6 siskins, 3 redpoll sp., 1 brambling and a bullfinch. A minimum of 50 meadow pipits also passed through during the morning as well as more than 400 starlings.
By the time we reached the third hide things had started to slow down, however within a few moments of opening the shutters I heard a flight call and caught a glimpse of white wings as a snow bunting went through. He did not land and appeared to go over to the Pill before flying back over to the back of the island on the 1st Lagoon where it could not be relocated.
However, on the following Saturday Andrew and I returned with Neville Davies whose sharp eyes picked the snow bunting feeding in the failing light on the gravel on the edge of the second lagoon from the 3rd hide. Truly a fabulous harbinger of winter to see on a day of excellent migration.