The Autumn Equinox has passed, so nights are slightly longer than days. The nights are cooler, leaves turn from green to red and yellow, and there are fewer insects to be found. It will be October soon, and our summer visitors are racing south, heading to Africa before the northern food supply runs out. These are birds without borders, needing good habitat in pit-stops on their 2000 mile journey.
Many of our summer migrants have left now, though lesser whitethroat and reed warbler were seen on Thursday (24th), and a couple of wheatears have been along the estuary track all week. Chiffchaffs still sing here, and a few blackcaps are feeding-up, but most of our other warblers have gone. A rock pipit was along the estuary on Wednesday 16th.
On the lagoons, a spotted redshank has been here for several weeks, as has a green sandpiper, though both may soon be on the move. A little stint on Sunday and Monday (20th and 21st) was a great record, our first this year, while a few bar-tailed godwits (from Russia) have been feeding on the estuary. They tend to feed and roost with the curlews, rather than the more numerous black-tailed godwits (from Iceland). A knot was here last Friday (18th) and two ruffs on Tuesday 15th, a scarce bird here this year.
Ducks are still scarce, except for many dozens of teal, but a female pintail on the estuary on Thursday (24th) was the first of the autumn, a few shovelers have arrived this week, and there are now several dozen wigeons on the estuary. Their low whistling call is a real sign that winter is on its way.
We've had a few chough sightings over the reserve this week, in the early morning and mid afternoon, presumably commuting between their overnight roost and daytime feeding pasture. Five ravens flying high to the northeast were perhaps making a local movement, as were a group of coal tits in the car park this morning.
Kingfishers and jays are being seen most days, while the sunshine brings out the last of the insects, including southern hawker and common darter dragonflies and some smart, fresh red admiral butterflies. A few bumblebees are still collecting nectar, important protein for the Queens to survive the winter: common carder, white-tailed and red-tailed were all seen today on the last of our summer invertebrate surveys. For us, that really does signal that autumn is here.
Next week we’ve got a digger back on site to carry out some work on the Deep Lagoon to improve the area for breeding and roosting birds. It's going to be messy - here's why we're doing it.
The islands directly in front of Carneddau Hide have had fewer and fewer waders nesting on them in recent years, and are very rarely used by roosting waders at high tide. The islands stand very tall above the water and have become surrounded by steep cliffed edges due to winter erosion, and we’re hoping to reprofile them, “scalping” them by lowering them with a digger and hopefully shaping them into low gentle domes which will be much more suitable for waders. This will also involve removing all the vegetation which, despite annual winter cutting, has started to become quite brambly, which also deters waders from nesting.
We’re hoping to take the island closest to the hide down to a level that will become washed over in some winters, when the water levels are high, to keep the vegetation permanently at low levels, and then the further two islands will be slightly higher, to allow good views. The spoil that we take from the top of the islands will be used to create gentle slopes leading away on their western sides, which will provide nice shallow muddy edges for waders to feed on. We’re hoping that once this work is complete, it should improve the islands for breeding birds and also bring wading birds closer to the hides for better views. However, until the digger starts work we’re not quite sure what we’re going to find beneath the surface – as “created” land, whenever you dig a hole at Conwy you’re not quite sure what surprises will await! If the islands turn out to be made of rough coarse rubble beneath their tops, which can’t be easily shaped, we may have to think again.
Whilst the digger is here, we’re also going to have a bit of a tinker in front of Benarth Hide. Each summer, as the water levels drop, a muddy shelf appears which is great for feeding waders. However, this area can be very large and featureless in summers with low water levels, and as the waders always feed at the water’s edge they can become quite distant. We’d like to put in a few pools and channels to bring the water and birds in closer to the hide in summer, but we’ve had a look at the mud and it’s quite sloppy, so we’re not sure any features that we put in will last over the winter.
The water in the lagoons can get surprisingly choppy in strong winds over the winter, which will churn the mud up below and may mean that any features we put in get filled in quite quickly. So rather than invest lots of time and money in creating a new wader landscape that may quickly disappear again, we thought that while we have a digger on site we’d have a bit of a play, putting in some small pools, channels and islands and seeing whether they are still there next summer. If they survive, we can then look at doing some proper landscaping of this area to make it more suitable for birds, birdwatchers and photographers. So if you come in one day to find that the area in front of the Benarth Hide looks like a digger’s playground, now you’ll know that’s exactly what it has been!
I'm Rhianna Braden, I'm 14 years old and I am currently volunteering at RSPB Conwy as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. I will be blogging about some of the reserve's events, such as the Wildlife Explorers Group that meets monthly at the reserve. Wildlife Explorers is the junior membership of the RSPB, and the events at Conwy are for members aged eight and upwards. I joined them for their meeting last Saturday afternoon.
Summer is coming to an end but as autumn approaches the Wildlife Explorers are out looking for wildlife! The Wildlife Explorers club decided to take advantage of the weather and do a bird race competition! With the help of volunteer bird spotters Tony and Alan, everyone was split into two teams. Team Alan and Team Tony! The challenge was to find as many different types of birds as possible around the reserve within one hour, and the team with the most birds would win. With the route of the reserve chosen the teams set off. This is what happened with Team Alan.
The first bird hide search was a success as the team found lots of different birds for the list, with a great view of a grey heron.
On our way between the bird hides, we ran into the other team who told us they had found a lot more birds then we had. With this in mind the team worked even harder to spot as many birds as possible.
After stopping off at three bird hides Team Alan headed back to the education room to meet the other Wildlife Explorers. In the end, it turned out that Team Tony had found more birds than team Alan, with a score of 22 to 30. Being the good sports that they are, the other team happily shared their edible prize with the rest of the club! Most of us saw some birds that we had never seen before too! All in all the afternoon went very well and we hope that the next club meeting will be as much fun!