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.
April - a new month, with new improved weather. Fewer days of gale-force winds, and more days of Springtime nature. We hope...
It has certainly got off to a good start, with daily arrivals of summer migrants. We heard our first willow warbler this morning, a bit earlier than usual, and our first white wagtails too. There should be plenty more in the next couple of weeks. No blackcaps so far, so that's another species that should arrive in the next few days. Sand martins have been more numerous in the last few days, now that the cold northwesterly winds have dropped, and there have been a few swallows , and our first house martin on Friday (3rd). Wheatears have been sporadic, but there are now lots of chiffchaffs holding territory around the reserve. Our first osprey of the year was spotted this afternoon, sending all the gulls into the air as it headed northeast over the lagoons.
A kingfisher was a nice surprise early this morning, the second sighting this week, and unusual here in spring, as they normally only occur in winter. Might they be prospecting a nest-site nearby? Several little grebes are still here too, tempting us into thinking that they may stay and nest, but they've dashed our hopes in previous years by moving on by mid April. Our pair of great-crested grebes have been carrying nest material into the edge of the reeds near the Coffee Shop, so fingers crossed that they will also stay. We found the first lapwing nest at the end of last week, and there are several Canada geese sitting on nests on the lagoon islands. As usual, mallards were the first birds to get chicks onto the water, with a family of six near the Coffee Shop over the weekend.
The warmer weather on Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday brought out the insects, with peacock butterfly today, and lots of mining bees around the Ynys Screen yesterday. Mining bees don't sting or swarm, but live in colonies, laying their eggs on a clump of pollen at the end of a 'mine-shaft' up to 60cm below the surface. Other signs of spring include a buff-tailed bumblebee on Friday 30th, and lots of frogspawn in the ponds. Look out, too, for the many cowslips that are flowering around the trails - and the first dog violets of the year, seen this morning. If you're walking around the trails (and don't suffer from hayfever), inhale the coconut-scent of the gorse bushes that are in flower - a wonderful smell.
Last week we surveyed the reserve for water rails, a shy and secretive reedbed dweller. We found 10 individuals, though it's always hard to be certain how many nests these will result in, as we almost never find the nests, and are very lucky if we spot the chicks. One person who was very lucky last week spotted an otter in the Deep Lagoon (Tuesday 31st) - we know they use the reserve, because we find signs of them throughout the year, but very few people are lucky enough to spot one - especially at 9am!
Most of our wintering birds have now left, with a redwing on Saturday (4th) and a siskin on Thursday (2nd), while a stonechat the same day is likely to be a bird moving from its low-ground wintering area to somewhere at higher altitude. A couple of grey wagtails have been around this week, another bird we usually only see outside the breeding season.
A green woodpecker was reported last Monday (30th) in the wildlife garden - they are quite scarce here, and sadly have become much rarer in North Wales in the last 20 years. We'd love to know more about this, so if you were the finder, please could you get in touch?
Finally, one visitor who arrived after a long journey (with an even longer one to go) is Gary Prescott. He is The Biking Birder, who is cycling to every RSPB nature reserve and WWT centre in the UK this year, raising funds for several charities, including The RSPB. You can follow his exploits on his Facebook page and on his blog, and we're sure he'd appreciate a donation to help him on his way. He's in Northern Ireland this week, another stage of his journey to break the European record for the highest number of birds seen in a calendar year without getting in a car.