Despite the horrendous weather conditions, the Wildlife Explorers club were still determined to carry out their Marshmalloween! To start off, the group learned about fire safety and how to light a fire without causing a kafuffle. Once prepped, the large group faced the wind and rain to get to their fire lighting stations armed with hay, cotton wool and kindling, as well as a flint and steel.
With the club split into 3 groups, the fire lighting could begin. It started off slowly of course, with the kids becoming more and more familiar with the flint and steel tools, but once they got the hang of it there were sparks flying everywhere! Once their fire was lit, the group were then rewarded with a couple of marshmallows each to roast. Of course a few cheeky kids had a few more than we were expecting. With the marshmallows melted, the club eagerly awaited for the arrival of the chocolate biscuits in order to create the infamous s’mores - a messy concoction of toasted marshmallow squashed between two chocolate digestives!
As the afternoon drew to a close, the team created one last food item to roast over the fire. Dampers. Using a three-ingredient recipe: flour, milk and water, the three separate teams got together to create little damper dough sausages, ready to twirl around sticks. Let’s just say it wasn’t such an easy task.
All in all, it turned out to be a very successful marshmalloween!
Although it feels more wintry feeling around the reserve today. with no frost (yet!) a few summer flowers continue to bloom, and there are still midges and wasps around. A flock of around 20 siskins are regular in the alders near the Tal-y-fan Hide, and a smart lesser redpoll was busily feeding on the seeds on the seeds of traveller's joy (old man's beard) outside the Benarth Hide this morning. Signs of colder temperatures elsewhere in Europe come with a few more pochards (seven this morning), a couple of goldeneyes and at least three pintails on the Deep Lagoon. A couple of coal tits have been regularly on the feeders, and male brambling was seen there on Sunday 8th, but not since.
A great crested grebe has been on the estuary all week, along with red-breasted mergansers, but the surprise of last weekend's Wetland Bird Survey was this smart whooper swan, which stayed just for a few hours on Monday afternoon. Thanks to Alison Cocks for the photograph. Whoopers are scarce in the Conwy Valley, but a small number winter on the Afon Glaslyn near Porthmadog, so perhaps this one had been disoriented by Sunday's gales and has now hopefully rejoined its brethren.
The wind and rain has made it hard to find firecrests this week. One was seen yesterday (19th), and there may still be others here. With leaves still clinging to some of the trees, it can still be a challenge to find these little birds. Water rails are being heard and seen in several places around the reserve, most frequently in front of The LookOut and Coffee Shop. A couple of choughs are seen most mornings, but they don't stop, heading south into the hills to feed for the day. Likewise, a few skylarks have been spotted overhead - sadly all too rare locally.
A colour-ringed Mediterranean gull was in front of Benarth Hide last Thursday (12th), which was the last day that chiffchaffs were heard singing on the reserve; there had been several around up to then. Kingfishers have been seen sporadically over the last couple of weeks, no doubt enjoying the higher water levels. We have had around 15cm of rain in the last four weeks, but it'll take another 70cm of rain to refill the Shallow Lagoon, so we have some way to go yet.
The stoats are much harder to see in the winter, but a real surprise was a polecat seen from the Coffee Shop last Sunday (15th).
OK, so perhaps an exaggeration, but in a week that several places in North Wales had multiple firecrests, the reserve took its share with at least five at one time (on Saturday 31st). There were still two this morning (Friday 6th), so who knows how many have passed through? Some may stay for the winter, as RSPB Conwy is a regular wintering site for these tiny birds that weigh just 6 grammes (one one-fifth of an ounce!). Thanks to Henry Cook for the photo (via Twitter) of one he found near Carneddau Hide.
Also here for the winter are good numbers of siskins, flocks of up to 20, plus a few coal tits, while several chiffchaffs have been singing and a couple of blackcaps are feeding in the bushes. The paths between the Visitor Centre and the Carneddau Hide are the best place to look for any of these birds. A brambling was seen here on Sunday (1st) and a lesser redpoll was seen the previous day. Small numbers of starlings (up to 1000) have been throwing shapes over the reserve on calm evenings
The water levels remain low; although we've had a little rain this week, we've had far less since the start of September than we usually expect. That does leave the lagoon in front of the Coffee Shop looking bare, but on the plus side, a walk to the Deep Lagoon brings you views of hundreds of birds, with flocks of lapwings, redshanks and teal, with small numbers of shovelers, gadwall and up to four pintails among them in recent weeks. Two golden plovers were among the lapwings on Friday (30th) and a yellow-legged gull was seen from Benarth Hide on Sunday (1st); the roost at high tide might pull in other scarce gulls as we move further into the winter.
Water rails are a sought-after bird at this time of year, and it seems that some of our wintering birds have been arriving back on the lagoon edges. The LookOut and the Coffee Shop have been the best places to look, with one or two (including a pair scrapping!) seen regularly. We have cut back the reeds in front of the Coffee Shop to improve the views. We have also cut some semi-circular 'bays' along the footpath near the Bridge Pond; these are designed to open up the habitat for bumblebees, which will have a mix of sun and shade as the sun moves east to west during the day, and a variety of vegetation in which to nest and feed.
Nuthatch and treecreeper were seen on Monday (2nd), both scarce species here, but with sightings of great spotted woodpecker now regular, the trees planted here 20 years ago are obviously just maturing nicely, adding to the diversity of birds here. A knot and up to nine dunlins were seen from the Vardre Viewpoint last Friday (30th), and a guillemot was seen going with the fast-flowing tide on the estuary. A few pochards and goldeneyes have been on the Deep Lagoon, and a female goosander was there on Thursday (29th), unusual away from the estuary.
The mild conditions resulted in a November record of common darter dragonfly, and we've noticed common centaury and yellow-wort in flower, species we think of as midsummer species!