Calm after the storm
Warning: Graphic content!
As a cold front nicknamed ‘the beast from the east’ continues to bring freezing temperatures and blizzards to the UK, all around the country birds struggle to cling onto life in these treacherous conditions. This extreme weather has brought many surprising species out of their rural habitats, into out towns and rural areas as they desperately seek food and refuge from the elements.
The conditions weren’t idea for photography today with a fierce wind to contend with and moody overcast skies occasionally broken by sunshine. The day was however, a great opportunity to capture images of many species I wouldn’t usually encounter here in Aberystsywth, and included some exciting first time sightings.
The most conspicuous of the unusual visitors to the harbour today was a stunning Lapwing, often taking flight and circling the water uttering it’s distinctive ‘peewit’ call.
Lapwings are usually found in farmland but this individual was taking advantage of the tidal mud flat to find food, whilst it’s usually prey of earthworms and insects are locked within the frozen ground.
The Lapwing is a Red List species, with populations in severe decline over recent decades and winters such as this are no doubt a contributing factor. As if to cement this point, a little later I stumbled across the frozen, lifeless body of a second lapwing who had sadly not survived the conditions.
Another unusual bird encountered was a pair of Stonechats. The Stonechat is similar to a robin and ordinarily inhabits farmland and heathland. They are named for their distinctive call which sounds like two stones clacking together.
The female bird was very obliging and allowed me to photograph as she perched on a branch, it’s just a shame about the second branch in the foreground but the bird took off before I could move to a better position.
The dark faced male kept his distance, sticking to the ropes tethered the boats to the sea wall.
Another bird more commonly associated with rural habitats such as farmland and upland is the Meadow Pipit. I regularly see the steely grey Rock Pipit in the area but these more streaky, golden coloured birds are not a particularly common sight, although they do pass through from time to time.
This Meadow Pipit had caught a large invertebrate larvae, a substantial meal during these tough times.
Whilst busy watching the pipits, I was both surprised and relieved when a small brown bird flitted into view and landed on a washed up branch a short distance away. It was the tiny Wren who occupies the area around the moored boats, and who I had not expected to survive the cold.
A beautiful female Grey Wagtail was taking advantage of the absence of any Pied Wagtails (unusual to not see any of these here) to forage at the waters edge undisturbed by her territorial neighbours.
Grey Wagtails inhabit the area from time to time but have always proved tricky to get close to and photograph. This cropped image is the best I could do, but at least it shows off the bird’s striking yellow underbelly rather nicely.
The final new sighting for the day was a small flock of sanderlings, a bird usually seen on sandy beaches. They are shy birds, and I had to approach the flock very slowly and carefully to prevent them from becoming alarmed and taking flight
Sadly for some birds, sanctuary had come too late. Aside from the beautiful lapwing other casualties included a ringed plover, herring gull, mallard and rock pipit also discovered in the debris.
— All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2018 © http://www.greyfeatherphotography.com
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