The rest of the country may find it hard to believe but, with the exception of a couple of days, we've had weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine at Conwy. Flowers have bloomed, insects have buzzed and birds have bred successfully in the warm conditions. Now, as we head into the summer holidays, the water level in the lagoons is dropping noticeably from evaporation and the growth of tens of thousands of reeds. In fact, it's exactly where we want it to be, and lots of damp mud is being revealed.
Damp mud means lots of food for wading birds, and even with the tide out this morning, hundreds of redshanks had stayed to feed, evidence that they like it. Mixed among them were common sandpipers, dunlins, whimbrel and a few black-tailed godwits. These godwits are on their way south from Iceland, stopping at Conwy to feed at our muddy service station.
As Adrian Foster's wonderful photo shows, these long-legged birds, a little larger than a redshank, are still in their splendid breeding finery: brick-orange head and breast, and beautiful 'tortoiseshell' wings that reveal a broad white stripe in flight. When describing birds, I think I use 'brick-orange' only when talking about godwits. It's the same colour as old-fashioned London Brick, but this hardly seems a fitting way to talk about one of the most elegant birds we see at Conwy. Anyone have a better description of this rich orange colour?
While some waders are on the move, we still have others with chicks. There are several half-size oystercatchers on the islands, and - after missing last year - common sandpipers have again nested here; the island to the left of the Carneddau Hide is the place to look, but I saw one chick fly this morning, so they may not be there for too much longer. Our great-crested grebe chicks are two weeks old, and only able to fit one on each parents' back. Look on the Shallow Lagoon - but there is also a third adult on the Deep Lagoon.
Also fledging are lots of warblers, and there are noticeably more willow warblers and red-capped blackcaps (either females or juveniles) around the scrubby areas. A garden warbler this morning might be one already moving locally. The second brood of three house sparrows in the Visitor Centre nestbox are starting to flap their wings, watched by lots of visitors thanks to our nestbox camera. We expect them to fledge in the next few days.
Many swifts have been feeding and drinking in the lagoons this week, and it will only be a couple of weeks before local breeding birds leave for Africa - perhaps ones at Conwy this week are already on their way? We've also spotted sand martins this week, certainly birds migrating south. A couple of wigeons and a dozen teal are moulting here, while kestrel, snipe and Sandwich tern last weekend are all scarce sightings here.
We're seeing lots of lovely photos on our Flickr page, and on Twitter. Last Friday, a visitor tweeted a photo of a four-spotted chaser dragonfly taken here, a species we don't see frequently - a great record. The sunny weather has also brought out lots of meadow browns and gatekeeper butterflies, and a few commas and speckled woods. The best area to see butterflies is the Ganol Trail, which we re-opened recently as the lapwings and oystercatchers have fledged. We'd like to thank everyone for observing the closure of that area over the last month to give our breeding waders the best chance.
A fox has been a regular sighting this week, often in front of the Coffee Shop, and we've had quite a few stoat reports too - we love the photo of the cheeky kits that Steve Ransome shared with us!
The reserve is so alive at the moment, it's wonderful. As soon as the day warms and the sun shines, the flowers open and the insects fly. There are at least four orchid species in flower: bee, pyramidal, southern marsh and early marsh. Ask at the Visitor Centre for details, but come prepared to get damp feet, as it's a bit wet underfoot where some of these flowers thrive.
Several broad-bodied chaser dragonflies are pacing their territories, and common blue and blue-tailed damselflies have been laying eggs in the ponds.
The first broods of blackcaps, lesser whitethroats, robins and blue tits have been leaving the nest this week, so there are all sorts of weird squeaks coming from the trees and bushes. On the water are several broods of moorhens, our single coot chick is doing well from its nest in front of The LookOut, and there are several broods of Canada geese too. At least two broods of oystercatchers are being fed by their attentive parents, on the islands to the left of Carneddau Hide
Our great crested grebes started building a nest on the Deep Lagoon last weekend, then gave up and have now built a nest on the Shallow Lagoon - they were very late in getting started, so this may not come to much.
A male scaup is a real surprise, though it's not completely unknown for them to appear in the summer. Its mates will all be somewhere on the edge of the Arctic right now, so he's well out of his usual range. Dunlins, ringed plovers, whimbrel and a common sandpiper were all seen this morning (31st), likely to be the last of the spring migrants heading north.
An early morning visitor to the reserve saw two otters in the estuary on Thursday morning, and we have had several sightings on our motion-sensitive trail camera (click on the link below to see a few seconds of the film). It's great to know they're here, even if we rarely get to see them! There have been a couple of sightings of stoat this week, though nothing regular yet to merit photographers staking them out. And a high tide washed up a big jellyfish on the foreshore during the week, not something we usually see here!
"All the beetles, so many beetlesThey all go hand in hand.Hand in hand through their...Pond Life"
I went for a walk at lunchtime; the sun was out and I took a walk around our small ponds, looking for dragonflies. A broad-bodied chaser had been seen yesterday, but I was happy enough with the blue-tailed and common blue damselflies I could see. I sat for a few moments and the clear waters were brimming with insect life: besides the adult damselflies laying their eggs in the vegetation suspended on the surface, the water was alive with water boatmen, pondskaters, numerous beetles and snails.
Earlier in the day, someone had told me that "there's not much around". At this time of year, it's true that we don't have hundreds of birds on the lagoons or the estuary, as we might in the winter, but here in the pond, there was so much going on that I wanted to find that person and say "you're looking in the wrong place - this is where the action is!"
The big news of the week was a black stork that crossed the estuary early on Tuesday evening; unfortunately, no-one saw it from the reserve, so it failed to become the latest addition to the reserve's bird list. This weekend's rain has seen a few more waders drop in, with dunlins, ringed plovers, common sandpipers and whimbrel today, while oystercatchers and lapwings both have chicks (so the path to the Vardre Viewpoint remains closed). While doing the weekly waterbird survey, Sarah found a single snipe - not unknown in May, but is this one that didn't leave or is back already for the autumn?
The other big news of the week is that on Wednesday, our lonely great crested grebe found a mate, and they've wasted no time with courtship displays, much head-shaking and today they are building a nest on the Deep Lagoon. There are moorhen chicks on the Bridge Pond, and the coot nest in front of The LookOut hatched a single chick too, so there's plenty of high-pitched squeaking from demanding youngsters. A little grebe here midweek was the first for a while, and there are gadwall, teal and shoveler hanging around, raising speculation that they might nest.
We're coming into the orchid season, with the first bee orchid spotted near the Carneddau Hide, and the first southern marsh orchids along the Ganol Trail (be aware that the track remains wet, which is why it's so good for marsh orchids!). Look in sheltered spots on sunny days for common blue butterflies nectaring on bird's foot trefoil flowers, while last weekend a visitor reported wall butterfly and azure damselfly. Moth-trapping last weekend didn't bring a huge haul, but a poplar hawkmoth, pebble prominent, heart-and-dart, and shuttle-shaped dart were nice.
Our trail-cam has picked up another nocturnal otter, but we haven't had any recent sightings of stoats, which is one of the most frequently asked questions at this time of year.