It may already be May, and all our summer migrants are in, but the weather seems to think it's winter still most days, and so it seems do some of our birds. A few of our winter visitors are still with us, including 2 male and a female pochard. Small numbers of pochard breed on Anglesey, so maybe there's a slim chance that they will stay and breed? We also had a pair of wigeon until last week, but seems like the male has finally realised that he should be further north and disappeared, leaving a lonely female behind! Meanwhile our usual summer wildfowl are well into the swing of things, with broods of mallards and Canada geese popping up all over the lagoons, and it shouldn't be too long now until the great crested grebes hatch out.
Migrants are still passing through, heading further north or up into the hills where spring comes later; we've had up to 4 whimbrel, 5 wheatear, 4 whinchat and small numbers of white wagtail daily. A redpoll has been singing by the Carneddau Hide on a few days last week, and we're also seeing sandwich terns in the Estuary on high tides, presumably following the fish up the river.
We think we also had a first for the reserve on 24 April, although it wasn't quite in the same league as some of the rarities we've had previously here. As I drove in to work that day, I was greeted by the slightly odd sight of a red-legged partridge standing in the middle of the slip road looking very confused. It was later seen by the Tal y Fan hide by Henry Cook, and as far as we know it's a first for the reserve. It wasn't seen again, so hopefully it managed to overcome its bewilderment and find somewhere a bit more appropriate to make a home!
And finally, we were graced by the presence of a beautiful brick-red colour-ringed black-tailed godwit on the Deep Lagoon on 30 April. First spotted by Tony Gallon and photographed by Mike Nesbitt, it stayed for a couple of days, and we reported the sighting straight away to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who coordinate all ringed bird reports across the country. The group that ringed the bird have been in touch already, and we found out that it was a male who was first ringed in western France in September 2013 on migration, and was seen again in Brittany in November 2014. Information gathered by reporting such colour-ring sightings provides invaluable data about the movements of birds and their longevity, so if you ever see a colour-ringed bird, or find a dead bird with a metal ring on, it's always worth reporting on the BTO website (www.bto.org), and it's very quick and easy to do!
Spring has arrived in a rush, with good numbers of many summer migrants already here. It amazes me how quickly, having made the long journey from sub-Saharan Africa, these tiny birds get straight into the business of nest-building. Last Thursday, for example, I saw the first whitethroat of the year, newly-arrived and making a half-hearted scratchy song from the top of a bush. By Monday, his song was full-pelt, and he was carrying nesting material into that same bush. Less than 100 hours after he'd arrived!
Other birds are also busy nesting, with a few - such as house sparrows and blackbirds - carrying food to nests hidden away in the scrub. Several Canada geese are sitting, as is a single lapwing, though there are several other lapwings around. A goldcrest has been singing, holding territory, near the Dipping Pond, not a bird that usually stays here in the summer. Time will tell whether he can find a mate.
Most of our spring migrants have now been spotted at least once. Those that will stay to breed - reed, sedge, willow warbler and chiffchaff - are all abundant, with small numbers of whitethroats and lesser whitethroats, but no garden warbler - yet! Other birds that will nest locally, such as sand martins and swallows, are feeding by the dozen over the lagoons, though so far, just a few house martins and swifts have been spotted. The swifts, in particular, are earlier than usual.
On the estuary, white wagtails and wheatears are seen almost daily (six of each this morning), while Sandwich terns and an Arctic tern were seen yesterday (Tuesday). Yesterday evening, 40 little egrets were on the mudflats, a record for this time of year, and perhaps as indicator that it's going to be a busy season in the local breeding colonies.
A few scarcer migrants have been spotted: tree pipit and grasshopper warbler on Monday (20th), whimbrels on several evenings, whinchat on Saturday (18th) and a pair of redstarts on Thursday (16th).
Most wintering ducks have long since left for their northern breeding grounds, but a pair of wigeons remain, and a male pochard was a surprise this morning, weeks after the last sighting. There are lots of shelducks around, gathering here before their nesting season begins: on Sunday, we counted 118 during the monthly Wetland Bird Survey.
We borrowed a passive bat detector from the Norfolk Bat Project over the weekend (long story, we are a bit farther west than King's Lynn). This monitors all the bats within the area that it's located while you're asleep in bed, and even though it is early in the season, there were several hundred 'hits' on the SD card when it was downloaded. Two of these were from species not previously recorded on the reserve: Natterer's bat and Nathusius' pipistrelle. The pipistrelle is the third species of its type for the reserve (alongside common and soprano), and has only been recorded a handful of times in North Wales. Many thanks for the loan of the kit, Norfolk Bat Project.
Our volunteers have started to do a regular butterfly, bee and dragonfly survey here. No dragons or damsels yet, but they saw plenty of butterflies: there are lots of peacocks around, and they also saw brimstone, orange tip and comma, and the first speckled wood this year was in the wildlife garden this week.
We've had a busy week at Conwy. The glorious sunshine has brought thousands of people to the reserve, getting out and enjoying nature. It has also brought lots of summer migrants to the reserve, and the breeding season has really started to get into full swing.
Our great crested grebes have built a nest in reeds across the lagoon from the Coffee Shop, though we don't think they are yet incubating eggs. Our little grebes are still here too, though if they are nesting, it will be much deeper into the reeds, out of sight. Robins, blackbirds and long-tailed tits are all nest-building on the reserve, while SparrowCam (a nestbox camera we are showing live in the Visitor Centre) has been a stop-start affair, with male and female house sparrows bringing in grass and feathers to build a nest, but taking out almost as much as they've brought in.
Lots of swallows and sand martins are feeding over the lagoons each day, catching flies emerging from the water. A few house martins have been seen among them. The morning air rings to the dual note of singing chiffchaffs and the falling cadence of willow warblers, though we have noted only one blackcap so far. Common sandpipers have been seen on several dates, but otherwise passage waders have been limited to a few black-tailed godwits so far.
Small numbers of white wagtails have been seen (6 on Thursday 9th was the highest count this week), usually on the estuary, and one or two wheatears have been seen daily.
The highlight of the week has been ospreys, with birds seen on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. It was tempting to assume that this was a single bird hanging around the estuary before continuing north, but several were photographed and the careful eyes of local birder Rob Hughes showed that at least two, and quite possibly more, birds were involved. The osprey image (above), by Matthew Boa was posted to our RSPB North Wales Facebook page after he saw it over the estuary on Tuesday evening.
The best way to spot an osprey is to watch how the gulls react, as they mob ospreys noisily. So on Saturday, I expected to see an osprey when all the gulls raised a racket, and was more surprised to see a short-eared owl heading down river, pursued by herring gulls. A distant red kite and chough were also see from the reserve on Tuesday (7th)
The last vestiges of winter include a couple of wigeons, lesser redpoll flying over on Wednesday (8th) and a few snipe. A few goldcrests and skylark are birds on the move through Conwy. Butterflies seen this week include peacock and small tortoiseshell, while a visitor spotted a large eel swimming in the gin-clear waters of the Bridge Pond. The cowslips are looking fantastic now, and popping up in several new places, and look out for the dog violets along the estuary wall, where we strimmed the bramble over the winter to encourage more flowers and invertebrates.
A peacock butterfly, a stoat and a grey heron are among the species that are appearing on the walls of The LookOut this week. Local artist Richard Hackett has been painting a mural on the back wall of our straw-bale building to highlight some of the wildlife you can see from here, and to welcome people inside. If you're here over the next few days, stop by and say hello as he finishes off his painting.