"In like a Lion," says the old proverb about March, and with chilly winds and snow today, there's still something fierce about the winter. But the promise of milder weather is on the horizon, so it may yet go "out like a lamb". So many of our traditional sayings, in both Welsh and English, are built around wildlife's behaviour and the seasons, showing our pre-historic connection with nature.
There are precious few signs of spring on the reserve yet, though the first butterfly - a small tortoiseshell - was seen more than two weeks ago, on 14 February. We've seen a few bumblebees, and there has been a bit of half-hearted display by a couple of lapwings but that's about it. In this corner of Wales, winter holds us in its grip. Yet each morning, it is lighter earlier, and now the song thrushes are singing regularly from the tops of bushes.
The flock of black-tailed godwits, numbering between 30 and 40, are feeding here, waiting for the time that they can head north towards their Icelandic breeding grounds. A few ringed plovers and increasing numbers of shelducks are indicators of birds starting to move across the country, while a turnstone last Monday (23rd) was more likely a refugee from the outer estuary during the super high tide. A couple of great crested grebes are here too, though their plumage has yet to take on its resplendent colourful feathers of the breeding season. Small numbers of goldeneyes, pochards and shovelers can still be seen on the lagoons, but firecrests have not been seen for some weeks now, and are presumed to have left, though a few goldcrests remain. Choughs have been seen a few times again recently, commuting between their coastal roost and their inland daytime feeding areas.
Three red kites over Glan Conwy on Wednesday (25th) was the highest count for a couple of years, while sparrowhawks have been more regular than usual, likely enticed by the regular murmuration of five to ten thousand starlings that were here at dusk each evening last week. The first sighting of stoats this year came last week, as they start to explore the reserve again, considering the best place to build a den.
Before the month is out, the first chiffchaffs should be singing, the first wheatears migrating along the estuary and the first sand martins looking for insects over the water. They'll have made quite a journey to be here, why don't you too?
February has already thrown snow and gales at us, but with settled weather this week, it has felt slightly like Spring, and we're eagerly looking for the first frog spawn in the ponds or the first butterfly on the wing. Several song thrushes are in full song each morning, their repeated melody ringing from the tops of trees still bare of greenery, and a sign that the breeding season is coming as the northern hemisphere tips towards the sun.
For now, though, the wildlife still has a distinctly wintry feel. Last night (Saturday), for the first time in many weeks, there was a reasonable roost of starlings at dusk - around 6,000 birds that chattered away in the reedbeds as we closed up. Earlier in the day, a golden plover had been spotted among a flock of lapwings, a skein of pink-footed geese flew east (perhaps heading for the Lancashire Mosses, a staging post en route to Iceland?) and a redwing was the first of the year. A pintail on Friday was another signal that birds are starting to move from their wintering areas back towards their summer homes.
Clear nights have brought the first sustained frosts of the winter, and with ice forming around the edges of the pools, water rails have been easier to see. Much of the water has remained open, however, with goldeneyes and red-breasted mergansers displaying, and up to four great-crested grebes. Around 40 black-tailed godwits have been here this week and a small number of ringed plovers, a stonechat was seen on Thursday (5th) and the overwintering firecrests were seen by the Bridge Pond, most recently on Wednesday (4th).
If you do spot signs of spring on the reserve, such as the first celandines or a bumblebee, do let us know, either by social media (Twitter or Facebook) or by leaving a note in the diary in the Visitor Centre; that way, we can share your sighting with other visitors. And if you take photos at the reserve, we love to see them, either through social media or on our Flickr page, as Mal Delamare did, who took this atmospheric shot of lapwings and black-tailed godwits.
This weekend we have a Binocular and Telescope Demonstration event where you can try and buy from our wide range of optics, with friendly and experienced advisors on hand to help you choose the best equipment for your needs. In addition to our usual range, we also have some excellent new models to try, as RSPB has expanded their own range with the new RSPB Harrier telescopes. Chris from the shop has written a little piece below to tell you all about them:
The new mid-range RSPB Harrier range is now available from stock at RSPB Conwy. The highlight is the ED glass used in construction, giving sharp, bright images even under poor light conditions.
The range includes 65mm and 80mm front objective scope bodies, along with fixed and zoom eyepiece options and sits between the existing AG and HD models. These lightweight scopes are made of polycarbon, are fully waterproofed and nitrogen-filled to prevent internal condensation, and are supplied complete with a stay-on case.
They are available in the following packages:
RSPB Harrier 65mm scope, case and 26x eyepiece at £399.00
RSPB Harrier 65mm scope, case and 15 – 45x eyepiece at £449.00
RSPB Harrier 80mm scope, case and 35x eyepiece at £449.00
RSPB Harrier 80mm scope, case and 20 – 60x eyepiece at £499.00
The scopes handle well with good focusing; the images are sharp, bright and natural looking with no noticeable colour cast or chromatic aberration. The fixed magnification eyepiece gives the brightest, sharpest image as would be expected, and the zoom is very good, giving the flexibility of a wide range of magnification. The 80mm Harrier is fitted with a long foot with five different mounting points to aid good balance and position for a wide range of tripods, mounts or viewing positions.
The new Harrier scopes offer a new scope with great performance, complete with a stay-on case at a very competitive price; they are worth a serious look if you are looking for a mid-range scope.
So come along on Saturday and Sunday between 10 am and 4 pm and try them out, and while you're here, why not have a walk round the reserve, browse our shop sale bargains, or enjoy the wintry view from the Coffee Shop over a delicious mug of coffee and a slice of cake?