It's that time of year when we play host to hundreds of geese and ducks all carrying out their summer moult after they've finished raising their young. Wildfowl lose all their wing feathers at once during the moult, and become temporarily flightless. As they are vulnerable to predators at this time, they tend to congregate in safe places, like our nature reserve, and stick together in large flocks for protection until they can fly again and leave us once more. Last week, David, one of our volunteers, counted 368 Canada geese, and we have around 60-70 scruffy-looking moulting mallards and 7 greylag geese here too. If you look carefully at the Canada Geese, you can see that most of them are missing their main wing feathers, and some of them are "in pin" - the new feathers are growing back in, and are protected whilst they're growing with a bluish covering which looks like a feather shaft. See if you can spot them! Whilst they're flightless, the geese have to walk, rather than fly, between the lagoons and the estuary to feed. They all come out of the Deep Lagoon at the same place, where there is a small beach, then up over the bank and on to the salt marsh. Whilst you're walking along the Estuary Path, you'll be able to spot this area, between the Foel Fras Screen and Benarth Hide, as a nice neat lawn of grass and bird's foot-trefoil, in contrast to the much ranker areas of long grass and bramble surrounding it. Amazing what the trampling of hundreds of goose feet can do in just a few weeks a year!
There's a few young still out and about on the reserve. Our single lapwing chick appears to have fledged this week, and we have a family of common sandpipers on the Afon Ganol (you'll hear the adults from a long way away, as they are calling constantly!). A brood of tufted duck ducklings and a moorhen chick appeared this week too, and the 2 great crested grebe chicks are now swimming strongly alongside their parents.
Wader numbers continue to build and Glyn, our Wildlife Guide, spotted a green sandpiper on 24 June. A grey wagtail was on the Afon Ganol on 26 June, adding a welcome splash of colour to a rainy week!
It's proving to be a great year for orchids on the reserve. The bee orchid count has topped 50 plants, and they're appearing in lots of places that we've never previously seen them - including by the bike rack next to the Visitor Centre. They have usually faded by now, but they look like they'll be going strong for at least another week. Then Sarah spotted some southern marsh orchids along the Ganol Trail - we're at the northern edge of their British range, save for a handful of records in northwest Scotland.
While we were out leading a guided walk on Tuesday, looking at these orchids, someone asked where southern marsh orchids ended and northern marsh orchids began. We had to look that one up, but it turns out that Conwy is in the overlap zone of the two, with 'northern' growing north of a line between the Rivers Severn and Humber. And within a few minutes, one of the group had spotted some low-growing northern marsh orchids. Both southern and northern marsh orchids are along the Ganol Trail in the open grassy areas close to the estuary, and both are new records for the reserve!
Thankfully, orchids don't mind the rain, which is a good thing, as we've had plenty this week. Our two great crested grebe chicks are keeping out of it, snuggled up in the feathers on the back of Mum or Dad, and out of the way of any underwater predators until they are bigger. A brood of two little ringed plovers hatched earlier in the week, so keep your fingers crossed for them.Numbers of redshanks and curlews are increasing, a sign that the breeding season is already over for some birds, and southbound migration has begun. A couple of teal, a goosander and a male shoveler this week are all signs of autumn too, though a snipe appears to have stayed with us right through from last winter.
This morning, there were five black-tailed godwits on the muddy shore in front of Benarth Hide, and there were three Sandwich terns in the estuary on Thursday (21st). It's not been a great week for butterflies or dragonflies, but broad-bodied chasers and speckled woods have been on the wing. A garden warbler heard last weekend is a scarce visitor here, though not as rare as the rose-coloured starling that graced a garden in Rhos-on-Sea for several days last week.Finally, if you're visiting this weekend, please show your support for the world's rainforests, by pledging with your signature at our entrance display.
As spring turns to summer (honest, that was summer we've experienced this week), the focus of our attention moves from breeding birds to the wild flowers. Stars of this week's show are the orchids. These are a special type of flower, and we have found three species this year: common spotted orchids, southern marsh orchids (new to the reserve) and bee orchids (photographed here by visitor Dylan Edwards). It seems to have been a good year for bee orchids, not just here but at other sites too. We have counted more than 30 spikes (stems), which is twice as many as we had last June. And each spike can have half a dozen flowers - one here a couple of years ago had 11 flowers on a single spike. Ask at the Visitor Centre about where to look - but please take care, especially if you're photographing them, as they can be easily trampled.
The young stoats have started to make more regular appearances, play-fighting along the estuary path this morning, and we've had reports of both weasel and polecat (which would be a reserve first) in the last couple of weeks, so do let us know your mammal sightings.
The stormy weather brought a sanderling in with a small group of dunlins this morning, a rare bird here, but especially in June, when it should be nesting in the Arctic. A smart black-tailed godwit was here earlier in the week, and the little ringed plovers are still around. A female teal was a wintry surprise on the waterbird count on Monday (4th), while a single snipe has been spotted several times through May and into June. A red kite was over the reserve earlier in the week (4th), while a Sandwich tern and whimbrel were here last Sunday (3rd).
Our Jubilee Discovery Trail has proved popular with families this week; so popular, in fact, that we're keeping it out a bit longer. So, come and follow the trail - and earn yourself a special Diamond Jubilee Badge.