The September drought broke in style on 4th October, and the water levels on the Shallow Lagoon rose an incredible 15 cm in just 3 days. This couldn't have been timed better for us, as some areas of the lagoon were starting to get a little dry and cracked, but everything is looking spot on again now, with plenty of areas of wet mud for the migrant waders, which are still moving through, to feed on. This year has been another great one for waders, as we've managed to maintain these muddy edges throughout the summer by allowing the water levels to gradually decrease, and we recorded 18 different species of wader in September - not bad going for a tiny site! In order to help give us more control over water levels in future years, we installed a pipe dam in the Causeway between the two lagoons a few weeks ago. If this drawdown doesn't happen naturally in future years, for example if we have a wet summer, this means that we can still achieve it artificially by moving water off the Shallow Lagoon and on to the Deep Lagoon.
This time of year always seems to be full of variety birdwise, with an overlap of summer, autumn and winter species all mixing in together. There are plenty of migrant waders still moving through, with curlew sandpiper, 2 spotted redshank, knot, up to 3 ruff and greenshank most days, and a little stint was seen on 8th October. The garganey appears to have finally left us, but been replaced by a female scaup. Water rails have increased in number, with their familiar squeals being heard all over the reserve, and we've also had a small influx of jays, no doubt hunting for acorns. A real sign of the onset of autumn was 6 whooper swans flying over on 11th October, heading south, but we've still a few summer visitors hanging on too. Two swallows were spotted on 5th October, and we're still seeing the occasional willow warbler in the scrubby areas of the reserve.
For the last couple of weeks, a Cetti's warbler, pictured left, has been heard regularly by the Bridge Pond (but catching a glimpse of it is another matter.......). This species is one of the beneficiaries of climate change - they were first recorded breeding in Britain in Kent in 1973, and have been spreading north and west ever since. Wouldn't it be great if one day soon they settle down in our reedbeds over summer, and we get to hear their explosive song throughout the breeding season?
You can't have failed to notice that the bushes are weighed down with berries this year. The good spring, followed by a warm and damp (but not soaking) summer created prime conditions, and the blackberries are especially abundant. Some days have brought lots of blackbirds to feast on them, whereas this morning, the robins were dominant. These aren't all resident birds on the reserve, but how far have they come? We can't really know, but sightings of redwings and fieldfares elsewhere in the Conwy Valley this week indicate that at least some of our blackberry-munchers have come from Scandinavia. Thanks to Alun Williams for the fine photo.
(By the way, you're welcome to collect blackberries from the reserve, but do stick to the paths and leave some for the thrushes!)
On the lagoons, the many weeks of dry weather (just 4mm of rain in September) mean that water levels are low. It doesn't bother the teal, though, and there's been a garganey on the Shallow Lagoon since 11th, although it seems to favour early mornings and evenings. Wigeon numbers have increased to several hundred, and a female scaup has been feeding intermittently on the Deep Lagoon.
We've had plenty of waders visiting the lagoons this week: sanderling on several dates (a scarce bird here), up to nine greenshanks, knot, ruff, curlew sandpiper and spotted redshank. Over 40 black-tailed godwits are feeding on the muddy Deep Lagoon as the water levels fall. A kingfisher has been seen regularly, and jays are almost daily - there has been a big influx from the continent in the last couple of weeks, with thousands in eastern England.
A merlin was reported a couple of times this week, another autumn/winter visitor. By contrast, most of the summer visitors have left. Chiffchaffs and a few blackcaps still sing in the extended summer weather, a reed warbler was heard on Monday (22nd), and house martins have been seen a few times this week.
The fine weather has been fantastic for insects, with lots of common darter dragonflies sunning themselves on the handrail over the Bridge Pond, a few migrant hawkers seeking muddy pond edges in which to lay their eggs, speckled wood and red admiral butterflies are still on the wing, and we've spotted several tree bumblebees too, a species that is a fairly recent colonist to North Wales. This settled weather won't last forever, so come and enjoy it while you can.
Chris Lusted from our shop is passionate about helping people to see wildlife, so he has helped to organise our first Binocular and Telescope Day in The LookOut on Sunday 5 October. He’s written a blog to highlight how optical technology has improved in recent years.
Our event is a great opportunity to try out our range of great quality optics and compare them to the very best on the market. You may be surprised how much binocular and telescope technology has moved on over the past few years, giving us brighter, sharper images, shorter close-focusing along with better handling and great value.
I recently changed my own binoculars due to changes in my own eyesight. Having been fortunate to have very good sight until my mid-fifties, slow changes mean I now use reading glasses. I was starting to find that my long-standing binoculars were not so easy to use.
I spent a few days trying different models to find the best that suited me. I finally got together three models that I liked and made my final choice over a couple of hours side-by-side use. I ended up choosing a model that I hadn’t expected to. So if you haven’t tried a new pair of binoculars or telescope recently, call in and try some out; you may be as surprised!
Our Avocet and Puffin binoculars come in 8x30, 8x42 and 10x42 models offering great value and performance in the £55-£135 price range. Our HDX range are a serious challenge in optical quality to high-end binoculars, but at about one-third of the cost. If you are looking for a quality compact binocular, try the incredible Swarovski Pocket CL range in 8x25 and 10x25 models; these have become a firm favourite among our customers.
Do you need something to view over longer distances? A telescope, with its higher magnification range, would be worth a look. Available in various packages of a RSPB AG body, eyepiece (fixed or zoom), stay-on case and tripod, they are ready to go from just £249. The different options will be available on the day for a direct comparison. Our HD scope offers the latest technology with ED glass, magnesium alloy body, coarse and fine focus controls along with a superb 25-50x zoom eyepiece, again a serious contender to high-end scopes.
We have experienced staff and volunteers, who are binocular and telescope users, able to guide you in your choice. As we are all different and have different viewing needs, we can help you choose the right binocular or telescope.
We look forward to seeing you and to give you the opportunity to try out equipment ‘in the field’ - not down a high street or across a showroom. Don’t forget buying over the internet does not give that valuable hand on experience of a range of equipment. And, remember, that all profits from RSPB shops go straight into our conservation work, giving nature a home.
Our Binocular and Telescope event is on Sunday 5 October, 10am-4pm. If you can’t make it here that day, we are open seven days a week, and you can book an optics adviser for an hour – please ring us on 01492 584091.