As the first dusting of snow covers the top of the Carneddau hills, we've definitely swapped over our summer visitors for the winter migrants now. The last swallow left us on 6 October, and a week later the first redwings arrived, followed closely by fieldfares on 25 October. Mind you, some signs of summer are still with us, with common darter dragonflies hovering over the ponds on sunny days towards the end of October. A really unexpected sighting was a noctule bat, found looking a bit sleepy and confused on the Boardwalk last week by a visitor, but it soon revived and headed off back to its roosting site. Meadow pipits and skylarks have been passing through all month, heading down from their high breeding grounds before the cold finally set in, and the starling roost has built up to at least 10,000 birds each evening, roosting in the reedbeds for warmth and safety. Along with the rest of the country, we've also had an influx of jays (pictured), as a failure in the acorn crop in many parts of Europe has caused them to move in big numbers in search of food. Water rails arrived with the colder weather too and have been seen regularly from the Coffee Shop in recent weeks, and a kingfisher has often been spotted on the lagoons and Bridge Pond.
Other interesting birds seen this month have been a firecrest (spotted by Rob Hughes on the sliproad down to the Reserve on 4 October), several sightings of a pair of choughs flying over, treecreeper, goldcrests and coal tit (an unusual record for the reserve), grey wagtails on the saltmarsh, up to 32 black-tailed godwit on the lagoons, and a greenshank too on many days.
Now that the weather begins to force us indoors, we start to look at the breeding season gone by and tot up the final numbers. Every five years we do a complete count of all the breeding songbirds, and this year were pretty pleased with the totals: 1 breeding pair of wood pigeon, 5 wren, 21 dunnock, 9 robin, 5 song thrush, 13 blackbird, 8 blackcap, 4 lesser whitethroat, 7 whitethroat, 32 sedge warbler, 15 reed warbler, 4 willow warbler, 4 chiffchaff, 2 great tit, 3 blue tit, 1 carrion crow, 4 house sparrow, 3 chaffinch, 3 goldfinch, 6 greenfinch and 5 reed bunting. Not bad for a tiny site! We tend to focus quite often on the less usual birds passing through, or on waders and wildfowl on the lagoons, but the songbird totals really show just what a great supporting cast we have here. Every day in the spring and summer you can expect to see a huge variety of songbirds along the trails in between the hides, busy finding food, raising their families and defending their territories against their neighbours, so no day is really quiet here if you spend a bit of time looking out into the reeds and brambles. Once they leave, the drier areas of the reserve start to seem a little quiet, but as compensation we now have the spectacular starling murmurations to look out for in the evenings, the squealing water rails to listen out for, and the fun of watching the red-breasted mergansers (28 of them today!) displaying and showing off to each other, chasing the few females in the flock. Life is never dull here!