CARDIFF BAY BIRDWATCH Sunday 11th January 2015
by Linda Nottage
Clear, dry and partly sunny weather tempered by a strong, chilly wind provided decent conditions for some excellent birding. At least 25 members and friends, including a welcome group of students, assembled outside Channel View Leisure Centre for this annual joint fixture for CNS and the Wildlife Trust. We followed a leisurely clockwise direction around Cardiff Bay through Hamadryad Park to the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve (CBWR) as far as the St. David’s Hotel before retracing our route back to our cars for a picnic lunch.
The Hamadryad inlet sheltered various ducks, coots, moorhens, a grey heron and a pair of mute swans prematurely going through the motions of nest-building. Small birds flitted elusively between the trees disturbed by magpies, but we managed to identify linnets and a reed bunting.
The zig-zag boardwalk at CBWR enabled a close study of the flocks of tufted ducks and, after a while, the rarity we hoped to see – a lesser scaup – emerged from behind some willows. Telescopes provided even clearer views than our binoculars so that subtle identification features such as its pale grey bill with a small black tip and a purplish sheen to its head confirmed ID without doubt (probably this same bird was seen here during our 2011 & 2012 Birdwatches). A small flock of Canada geese, mallards, coots, little and great crested grebes mingled with the tufties. Cormorants were much in evidence throughout the day.
A party of at least a dozen linnets and 2 or 3 reed buntings kept returning to feed on the mown patches where colourful prairie plantings of wild flowers had been grown last summer. A male kestrel hovered and swooped over the wetlands where some glimpsed a kingfisher and others had watched a female stonechat. With such a large, strung out group it was inevitable that not everyone spotted all 40 species recorded on the day. A few of the birds were identified only from their calls in the wetlands – teal, water rail and Cetti’s warbler.
After our luck with the lesser scaup, another hoped-for bird was a great northern diver known to be frequenting the Bay. Richard Cowie spotted it first and, after some frustratingly long dives, the diver remained on the surface to preen giving us all chance to view it well through the telescopes.
As we walked back over Clarence Road Bridge, we paused to admire a handsome drake goosander on the Taff. At that moment an adult peregrine chose to perform a full range of aerobatics complete with stoops on magpie and feral pigeon, flying around our heads 2 or 3 times to our delight and causing a raucous commotion among the gulls.
On returning to Channel View, some departed but after enjoying our picnic lunches the rest drove towards Penarth Marina and a free carpark where another flock of linnets, around 30, was seen. From there we followed the path alongside the River Ely as far as the old Custom House.
Turnstone and grey wagtail feeding at the water’s edge were additions to our morning tally. The day’s only disappointment was our failure to locate the black redstarts which Rob and I had enjoyed on a recce a few days previously. Two of our party did manage a glimpse but it seems the strong wind had driven them into hiding. Below the Penarth cliffs with their bands of pink and white gypsum, winter heliotrope was flowering with its delicious almond scent.
Clouds were gathering as we strolled back alongside Penarth Marina, enjoying close views of one of the striking continental race cormorants. The rain held off and we departed well satisfied with an exceptionally exciting Cardiff Birdwatch, full of highlights and an introduction to new venues for several participants.
Photos 1 and 3 (St David's hotel and group on bridge) by Linda Nottage.
Photos 2 and 4 (linnet and group with binoculars) by Bruce McDonald.