After the rush of Spring migration, nature is now settling into its breeding season. Some of our waterbirds have chicks, and it's a delight to watch the two stripy-headed great-crested grebe chicks poking their heads from beneath the parental wings, soliciting food. Thanks to Rita Jones for sharing her photo with us on Flickr. A little grebe brood has also hatched, and unwilling to give their young a free ride, the parent birds are keeping their chicks close to - or within - the reedbed to avoid hungry predators. Both grebe families are on the Shallow Lagoon and can be watched from the Tal-y-fan Hide or the boardwalk viewpoint. One brood of mallards has already fledged, tufted ducks are secreting themselves away in the long grass, and a couple of male gadwall are hanging around, so perhaps their mates are nesting.
All our warblers are now busy building nests or feeding young, and as a result, many have already stopped singing. A few garden warblers, blackcaps and a lesser whitethroat are still in full voice. 150 shelducks are still in the estuary, not yet ready to head into the hills to find a rabbit burrow in which to nest.
Scarce visitors this week include 13 Sandwich terns on Monday (16th), two white wagtails (Sunday 15th), and grasshopper warbler, red kite, siskins, osprey and spotted flycatcher on Saturday (14th).
Birds heading farther north are still on the move, however, particularly waders heading for Iceland, or even farther. Whimbrel numbers have dwindled, but small groups of ringed plovers and dunlins can be found on the estuary, a flock of black-tailed godwits have been present since Sunday (15th) and a few curlews are here too. A sanderling and turnstone were brief visitors on Wednesday (11th), and grey plover and a bar-tailed godwit were on the estuary on Monday (9th). A single snipe has been on the shallow lagoon for several weeks, perhaps it's not planning to leave.
Insects have been notably scarce on our weekly transect surveys, with just a couple of bumblebees and only a handful of butterflies. Peacock, small tortoiseshell, brimstone, orange-tip, speckled wood and holly blue have been seen during the week, and we found a mating pair of large red damselflies while pond-dipping with a school group on Monday (16th). A hairy shieldbug was the first record we have on the reserve since 2002.
A stoat was carrying a tiny young kit (they move their families from den to den when young), and we've had more sightings of weasels than usual. Take a look in the ponds too, as there are smooth newts, as well as frogs and toads.
If you've read this far, you're obviously as passionate about wildlife as we are. And we're looking for someone with that passion, and practical conservation skills, to be our next Warden. Sarah, who has been our Warden since 2011, is off to Orkney, to help manage RSPB Scotland's nature reserves there. If you, or someone you know, has the skills and enthusiasm, please see our website. And good luck to Sarah, and thank you for everything you have done.
If your passion is for food and for great customer service, we're also recruiting an Assistant Catering Manager for the Coffee Shop with, we think, one of the best views in Wales. See our website for details of that too.
Finally, visitors to the reserve last Wednesday may have spotted Wales' favourite meteorologist Derek Brockway filming an episode of his next BBC series of Weatherman Walking. He guided Nicki Cockburn, who is a keen birdwatcher, with a strong spirit of adventure, even though she has been blind since birth. Nicki discovered birds thanks to a visit to RSPB Conwy ten years ago, and visited regularly while living in Llandudno. She now lives and works in Cardiff, but enjoyed being back at Conwy, where she got to hear her second and third favourite bird sounds, lapwing and oystercatcher. The programme will be broadcast over the Winter.
We've had some wonderful wildlife on the reserve this week, including a few local rarities. And our visitors have taken some wonderful pictures, so rather than writing a long blog, we thought we'd showcase some of the best we've seen.
A blue-headed wagtail (the continental race of yellow wagtail) stayed from 27th April to last Wednesday (4 May), sometimes showing very well. Sometimes it wanted a better view of the reserve, so perched on the wooden lapwing sculptures on the causeway. Thanks to Robin Freckles for sharing this photo on Facebook.
A pair of garganeys showed up on the shallow lagoon on Bank Holiday Monday, and stayed until Wednesday (4th). There was no sign on Thursday, but the male appeared again this morning (Friday 6th). This is our only summer migrant duck, and also our smallest (along with teal). Having spent the winter in sub-Saharan Africa, this pair will hopefully breed somewhere in northern Europe. Thanks to Dave Williams for the lovely photo.
With more than 240 bird species already recorded at Conwy, it's hard to find a first. The wood warbler that fed hungrily by the Bridge Pond on Thursday (6th) was one of the most likely 'missing' species to turn up, as it's a classic breeding bird in Welsh woodlands, though none very close to the reserve. The bird was constantly on the move, so well done to Henry Cooke for getting this shot.
In other news: all of our resident summer visitors are now here, with a handful of lesser whitethroats and a couple of garden warblers singing this week. Last Wednesday, sightings included two whinchats, spotted flycatcher, a redstart and 20 wheatears, while earlier in the week a flock of Sandwich tern peaked at 20 birds, a tree pipit was at the south end and two grasshopper warblers were 'reeling' in the reedbeds. Small numbers of white wagtails have been on the estuary, heading for Iceland, as are whimbrels, here in greater numbers than usual - counts of over 40 have been regular, with a record 57 last Saturday (30 April).
A 'mixed singer' warbler has been a bit of a puzzle this week. It looks like a willow warbler, but sings "chiff-chaff" in descending notes, just like a willow warbler. This sometimes happens when a chick of these closely-related species can hear the male of the other species from the nest.
Speckled wood, brimstone, orange-tip, green-veined white and small tortoiseshell butterflies have been enjoying the sunny weather - but we've seen no dragonflies yet. Look out for cuckoo flowers in bloom around the reserve, and common dog-violets along the estuary bank. This is probably the last weekend to see the cowslips at their best too. We've received lots of reports of weasels this week, more than usual, so keep a look out as you're around the trails.
Please do keep sharing your photos with us on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr - and don't forget to tag us. We love to see them, and they show how brilliant the reserve is at the moment.
Imagine being a chick. For the last few weeks, you've been cosseted in an egg, warmed by the downy feathered lining of your nest and the warm belly of your parent(s). Most birds - generally females - have a 'brood patch' of bare feathers so that eggs and chicks get warmth from the adult's blood vessels.
Then, when you're too big to stay in the egg any longer, you fight your way out of the egg, chipping away the inside of the shell with a little 'egg tooth' a temporary spike on your tiny bill. This world is a very different place now you've hatched, and all seems fine until your Mum gets off the nest, and you feel the chill Arctic winds blowing over you.
That's how I'd imagine the first mallard and Canada goose chicks have been feeling this week, but with plenty of downy feathers of their own, they're well equipped for cold air and cold water. The oystercatcher chicks are still inside their eggs under brooding adults on the islands in the lagoon. Let's hope the weather improves by the time they hatch so that there are plenty of insects for them to eat.
The last couple of weeks has seen all of our remaining summer regulars turn up. Since our last blog, we've recorded our first whitethoat and whimbrel (both 12 April), swift and reed warbler (both 17 April), garden warbler on 21 April and lesser whitethroat on 24th. In fact, whimbrels have been here in good numbers, with counts of 28 on Saturday (23rd) and 31 on Tuesday 19th. Other migrants to occur in number include five common sandpipers on Tuesday this week (26th) and a remarkable 54 wheatears on Tuesday 12th. Another good count was of 237 shelducks on Friday (22nd), gathering in the lower estuary before heading upriver to find a nest in an old rabbit burrow.
April should be the peak wagtail month, but so far only small numbers of white wagtails have been spotted, though a blue-headed wagtail on the deep lagoon islands this morning was a welcome visitor, our first for a couple of years. Large numbers of sand martins are feeding regularly over the water, perhaps their only source of insects in the cold wind. Other scarce visitors seen recently include stonechat on Wednesday/Thursday (20th/21st), a twite on the same two days (which had been colour-ringed on the Dee Estuary in February and is perhaps heading back to the small breeding population in Snowdonia) and a redstart (Tuesday 19th). A spotted redshank was seen on the estuary at high tide over the weekend (22nd-24th) and a few dunlins have been feeding on the deep lagoon islands
Some of our winter birds haven't quite felt the urge to leave yet, with a few teal and gadwall, a pair of wigeon and a male goldeneye still here; a single male pochard was here until last Friday (22nd) and a pair of shovelers until last week.
The warmer, sunny weather last week brought out some early butterflies: comma, speckled wood, peacock, orange-tip, small tortoiseshell, green-veined white and brimstone, and our insect surveys have been finding plenty of bumblebees too. Sarah added a new mining bee species to the reserve list last week, when she found a colony of Clarke's mining bees (Andrena clarkella). Thanks to Richard Knisely-Marpole for taking a series of excellent photos for us. There are lots of common dog violets in flower along the sea wall, and cuckoo flowers (also known as ladies' smock) in bloom around the reserve.
With May just around the corner, there are still plenty more migrant birds to come, more flowers to emerge and lots of insects to hatch. Who knows what you'll find here over the bank holiday...