Sunday, 23 September 2018

Rainy Wales

In recent years at this time of years my birding pulses would be quickening at the prospect of the next great Uni Run up to Durham to take Daughter 1 back up to the North East for the start of her next term. Sadly now that she has finished there, those trips to places like Spurn are no longer going to be an annual event. Daughter 2 is still at Uni in her final year but sadly Swansea doesn't offer quite the same birding opportunities that Durham does and each trip I rather struggle to find much of interest to stop off at on the way back. This year I had been intending to pay another visit to the Common Hawkers on the Gower Peninsular but with the forecast for torrential rain all day I had to shelve that idea. Instead, given the recent wreck of Grey Phalaropes that have been blown ashore all around the area I thought that this would probably be the most interesting opportunity for this part of the country. There were no shortage of them to pick from in Glamorgan with at least four different locations sporting this diminutive wader but in the end I chose a pair at Pilning Wetlands, by New Passage in Gloucestershire, partly because it was the shortest detour off the way back but also partly that I'd always wanted to visit this area and have always enjoyed the landscape along the River Severn whenever I'd seen it: somehow there's a rather eery and bleak feel to this sort of place which I really like. So that was the plan.

We headed off from Oxford just after 9 am and soon hit the wall of rain. In horrible driving conditions, and fighting hard to concentrate after a poor night's sleep we headed west until we reached Swansea itself where a horrendous traffic jam due to some road works and some really poor traffic light coordination (I was stuck waiting to move for twelve consecutive traffic light cycles as there was just no way to get across a busy junction) after an hour and a quarter in the jam we finally made it to D2's new student digs. They were suitably horrible and run down though she had a lovely large room at the top of the house which was well-appointed with a fabulous view overlooking the city and the sea beyond. Having unloaded her stuff we said our goodbyes and I headed back, choosing this time to keep well away from the city centre and to head out of the city by another route.

Back on the motorway, it was continuous rain all the way as I headed back east. I had half a mind to abandon my plan to stop off but I was curious at least to see New Passage and the river so I made my way over the river via the old Severn bridge on the M48 and then turned southwards towards New Passage that lies underneath where the new bridge crosses the river. There I parked up, donned all my waterproof clothing (realising at this point that I'd forgotten my waterproof trousers - Doh!) and headed off towards the Severn Way, the path that runs along the bank of the river. I was soon crossing The Pill (a small tidal stream that flows out into the river here) and then walking the short distance along the Severn Way towards the Pilning Wetlands area. To the river side of the path was flooded grassland that was full of Canada Geese, Mallards and Teal as well as a few Lapwings and Meadow Pipits. It very much reminded me of Port Meadow in winter time back home.

Looking back towards the new bridge in the gloom

Looking north from New Passage towards the old bridge and Old Passage

After no more than a couple of hundred yards I arrived at the Wetlands which consisted of a series of scrapes and shallow lakes on the inland side of the path. The first one hosted a few dozen Black-headed Gulls, some Black-tailed Godwits, a few Redshank and a single Green Sandpiper.The second scrape held half a dozen Moorhens and the two Phalaropes, an adult and a first winter, both feeding away frantically with their clockwork toy action as they do. In the on-going rain I didn't really fancy doing much digiscoping but did take a quick bit of footage for the record.

The adult Grey Phalarope, the younger bird being out of view at the time

Beyond this was another deeper lake with a flock of several dozen Hirundines, mostly Swallows with a few House Martins, all hawking away madly in the rain. I searched through them carefully for something rarer but there was nothing of note. I spent some time taking in all the gloomy but very atmospheric landscape. What a great patch this would make I mused though realised that I couldn't live so close to the motorway: the constant roar of traffic would drive you mad after a while. After a while the lack of waterproof trousers started to get to me and I headed back to the Gnome mobile, got out of my waterproofs and cranked the heating up to 11 to dry off. I then headed back onto the rainy motorway and made my way back home to Casa Gnome where I collapsed on the sofa with a hot cup of tea and one of our two cats sitting on my lap. It had been a long and extremely wet day out.

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