Lessons with a Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

A Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) encourages fledglings to fend for themselves, by catching insects on the river.

That afternoon I’d found myself lying on the shingle bank of the river, with lens & camera resting on a stone just an inch above the water. It was a hot humid day, the morning had been busy and the river was enticing. I’d taken the 700 mm fl setup with me in the hope of spotting a Dipper whilst also cooling off my core temperature. I’d seen the Dipper.. on the wing at high speed – in no mood to pose & ‘dip’ for me. But when, some 30 minutes later, the Grey Wagtail appeared, I was glad that I’d been patient despite the insect harassment & the pebbles jabbing at my ribs. She stood just 4 or 5 metres in front of me, her attention not on feeding, nor upon the strange camo clad human lying in the damp shade..

A grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) standing amongst stones on the river margins.
A Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) standing amongst stones on the river margins.

Her attention was focused a little upstream (behind me of course!) where young fledglings were learning to catch insects for themselves. A Minnow rose to take a mayfly from the river surface just to my right, the adult Wagtail flew upstream & I realised that I would need to move & reset if I was to record any of this story.

Grey Wagtails are insect eating birds. In summer they are mainly to be found along fast flowing streams & rivers where food is plentiful. Chicks fledge after only 2 weeks or so. In the UK their conservation status is considered red, so it’s pleasing to see them breeding successfully.

A young Grey Wagtail ponders how to catch a snack for himself.
A young Grey Wagtail ponders how to catch a snack for himself.

Some time later I was re-positioned partially submerged in the rapids by some boulders and the Wagtails were back. I spotted two fledglings, ok for a later brood, though 3 would have been nice. They hadn’t fully mastered the skill of catching dinner, so frustrating when it’s hovering just inches away – as in the picture above.

The adult demonstrated the technique necessary by deftly plucking an invertebrate from the fast shallow flow at the top of a little cascade.

With skill & practice, a Grey Wagtail pecks insects out of the fast flowing shallows.
With skill & practice, a Grey Wagtail pecks insects out of the fast flowing shallows.

The lessons must have been tiring, one youngster decided to take a break; fluffing himself up and looking all cute in the afternoon sunshine.

A Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) fledgling stands on riverside rocks watching its parent search for insect food.
A Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) fledgling stands on riverside rocks watching its parent search for insect food.

If you’re out walking the river banks this summer, keep an eye open for these delightful little birds.

Dipper about in the River

White Throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) are a wonderfully characterful bird of the river. They are a smallish but stout bird with a pale chest that contrasts with their otherwise dark plumage.

A Dipper stands alertly in river shallows.
A Dipper stands alertly in river shallows.

They feed on river invertebrates (esp. freshwater shrimps) which they search for under the water or by turning stones in the shallows. They will immediately swallow larvae & small food whilst still submerged – larger prey are brought to the surface for eating (see pic below).

A Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) catches an insect nymph for an afternoon snack.
A Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) catches an insect nymph for an afternoon snack.

Amazingly capable of balancing themselves in strong currents by using their wings in the water; they also have the tendency to bob up & down whilst standing on rocks & even riverside branches – like a dancer limbering up.

They are of amber conservation status in Britain. A quiet observer can spot them (& hear their high pitched call) on various upland welsh rivers. Below is a short video that I was lucky enough to capture whilst maintaining riverside paddocks last week.

Always happy to see these bouncy chaps 🙂

Breeding & fledging will be in full swing currently, so a few stolen moments of preening are probably very much appreciated.

Do keep a look out for these energetic little birds whilst you are walking by the local rivers – they are well worth a few minutes spent watching them.

Support

Support

We all come across obstacles in our life. Some are boundaries that perhaps should not be crossed, whilst others need bridging to allow the continuance of our journey.

Larger obstacles require good supports for the bridge to be strong. Our choice of support & method of bridging can not only change our final destination but also reflects heavily upon ourselves & the long-term likelihood of success.

So seek out support when you need it, but whence it shall come; choose this wisely.

Late Summer Tint

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Both river and woodland are thriving for a good summer …

River in Woodland
The Afon Dulas cascades its way towards Aberllefenni

Summer Rains

After a dry start to August, the last 3 or 4 days of rain have tried to make up for lost time and the river is now running quite full. I do love watching the water dance a jig as it twists & bubbles its way beneath the trees.

Recent Rainfall:
Fri 1.19in – Sat 1.91in – Sun 1.96in – Mon 1.23in

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River flow