The male common scoter that has been here since 21 April seems in no hurry to leave. Initially, we were concerned he wasn't well, but this week he's been swimming, preening and feeding as though being on the lagoons at Conwy is perfectly normal. He should soon be making his way north to a loch in Scotland or an Icelandic lake to find a female. It favours the island nearest the Carneddau Hide, but if it's out of view from there, try from Benarth Hide.
Similarly present have been two little ringed plovers, which we hope won't be moving on anytime soon. When the reserve was first created, little ringed plovers bred on the bare earth. Time and vegetation made it less suitable, but the new islands that we created last autumn have proved attractive, and they've been standing and mating on the top of them. Fingers crossed they stay, but that also we get some rain soon so that the islands remain islands. With no proper rain for six weeks, the lagoons are starting to shrink for the second successive spring.
Other highlights this week include red kite (four days out of the last seven), osprey hovering over the lagoon (Friday 29th), grey plover and Sandwich terns (also Friday) and gannet (Thursday 28th). Whimbrels and white wagtails have been here almost every day, with other summer migrants becoming more abundant: several whitethroats and lesser whitethroats are now on territory, and there were the biggest groups yet of swift and house martin this morning.
The first brood of Canada goslings were seen yesterday, and several broods of mallard and one of gadwall have been splashing madly after their respective Mums this week. Several visitors have been delighted to see water rail from the Benarth Hide during the week, a tough bird to see in the springtime. Single black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits have been here this week, but as yet we haven't seen any groups of Icelandic black-tails that normally stay for a couple of weeks before moving north,
With orange tips, speckled woods and red admiral butterflies on the wing, it's hard to remember that winter was here but a weeks ago, though a smart male goldeneye (displaying to the tufted ducks out of desperation or confusion) and siskins on the feeders remind us that for northern birds, like the scoter, their time for nesting has yet to come.
It's a great time of year to get outside and enjoy the weather - just as lots of families are doing here right now on our Easter Egg hunt! As they go round the reserve this morning, they'll hear the rasping songs of sedge and reed warblers, along with the mellow tunes of the many blackcaps and, perhaps, they'll here the machine-gun chatter of the lesser whitethroats that are now arriving from eastern Africa. They're the only one of our regular songbird migrants to get here through Africa's Rift Valley rather than around/across the Sahara.
Visitors who came earlier in the week were treated to a few surprises. Wednesday's treat were two avocets that stayed for the afternoon (20th). Puffinman, one of our regular contributors to the Community Gallery pages was fortunate to connect with them - the first ones he'd ever seen of a bird that remains scarce in North Wales and has yet to breed here. Unfortunately, the two didn't stay and were seen near Llanfairfechan the following morning.
Thursday brought a male common scoter, which was slightly lost as it headed north to its breeding grounds. It didn't look too healthy initially, but after a couple of days was feeding on the lagoon and flew off strongly north on Saturday (24th). [Only to reappear here this morning - Monday 25th]
Other migrants this week have included whimbrels and wheatears on most days, whitethroats since 19th, swift (23rd), little ringed plovers (19th and 20th) and greenshank (19th). The male goldeneye was still here on Friday (22nd) and beware of the strange looking hybrid duck. Alex Jones, one of our volunteers (and finder of the avocets), took this photo and started a debate on its identity, which we think shows features of male teal and male mallard!
Easier to identify is the brood of mallard ducklings on the bridge pond; there were still three this morning, though Mum had left them to it. Look out too for common sandpipers, a pair of which were displaying here yesterday - will they breed for a third successive year? Already breeding are the house sparrows in the nestbox on the side of the Visitor Centre, though she has no idea that we watch here every move on SparrowCam. She's brooding four eggs, with the first due to hatch on 2 May.
The good weather has brought out the butterflies, with good numbers of orange tips (anyone else think there are many more around than in the last couple of years), and a few holly blues. With the bird's foot trefoil starting to flower, there should be plenty more insects nectaring in the next few weeks.
By the way, if you're visiting in the next few days in a high vehicle, please give us a ring (01492 584091) when you get to the Lapwing entrance Gate, as we're having to keep the height barrier shut at the moment. We'll come out and open it for you.
Finally, did you see the article in this week's North Wales Weekly News about the reserve and RSPB Cymru's Centenary. There's a link to it here, but you'll have to buy a copy if you want to see the photos too.
And when the weather's like that, so are the birds. New arrivals come in with the warm southerly winds, then a cold northerly brings migration to a temporary halt. The first half of April has seen plenty of birds moving through: the first blackcap on 1st, sedge warbler on 5th, common sandpipers on 6th, reed warblers on 8th, grasshopper warbler on 10th and garden warbler on 11th. Wheatear numbers have finally picked up, with groups along the estuary on several days, where small numbers of white wagtails have been feeding (and sometimes in front of the coffee shop), though not yet the big groups we're used to.
Several ospreys have been spotted, with birds on 2nd and 4th and 11th, the last being mobbed by shelducks! Beside the common sandpipers, it's still a bit slow on the wader front, with a greenshank on 2nd and a few black-tailed godwits. A skylark over on 3rd is, sadly, all too rare a spring sound these days.
A taste of winter hangs on, with a male goldeneye re-appearing, a male pochard, a few wigeons and a good size group of 26 red-breasted mergansers. We surveyed the water rails this week, and it's not great news. The second successive cold winter, with a long period of freezing conditions, has taken its toll, and we recorded only a single water rail.
The warmer days have also brought out the butterlies, with plenty of peacocks, and the first orange-tips and brimstones.
We've finished upgrading the trails over the last couple of days, so all the hides are accessible for all visitors, including those in wheelchairs and pushchairs. We're keeping the last section to be completed, the 'return loop' of the redshank trail adjacent to A55, closed until the weekend so that it can firm-up, but it will be open by Saturday.
Trail newsThis week, we've started work to upgrade another section of our trails to make them more wheelchair and pushchair-friendly, and to reduce the puddles following heavy rain. We've started on the section to Tal-y-fan Hide, which is now open, and where you've traditionally required a small boat if it's been raining hard. The guys are doing the section beyond the bridge pond today, and we hope that the new surface will be down by tonight and open to foot traffic over the weekend.
The irony of these improvements is that, temporarily, it'll be a bit more difficult for wheelchair users. It takes a few days for the slate to bed down and the surface is quite soft until it does. If you're planning a visit using a wheelchair/mobility scooter in the next couple of weeks, please ring us so that we can tell you the latest and advise you on the best route. We're confident that by Easter, all areas will be accessible again.
Next week, work will start on the section from the Carneddau Hide to the 'return loop' close to the A55. This will sort out the drainage in another traditionally wet area, but will mean that there will be trail closures each day. You will always be able to get right around the reserve, but may find you have to take a different route to usual, and that the Carneddau Hide is shut early next week.
Wildlife newsOK, that's enough footpath news, how about some birds? There continue to be a good number of migrants around for early April, with plenty of sand martins, willow warblers and chiffchaffs each day, a few swallows and blackcap has been heard a couple of times. A house martin on Wednesday (30th) was a very early record, and a wheatear (28th) is one of only a handful seen so far. A few white wagtails have been on the estuary this week, but April is the month that they usually go through. Star bird of the week is an osprey that flew up the Conwy Valley on Sunday (27th) afternoon
Red-breasted mergansers are plentiful too, perhaps gathering before they head into the hills to breed. A black-tailed godwit dropped in this morning, while a grey plover (28th), 2 greenshanks (29th) and a dunlin (30th) are the only other waders of note. On a winter theme, a redwing (30th) and a couple of siskins (1st) have been spotted, and a single pochard remains on the shallow lagoon.
It's not been a great week for butterflies, but bumblebees are a little more resistant to cool weather, and we've seen three different species this week. Check out the willow pollen to see them busy feeding.