This is National Insect Week, so we thought we'd show you one of the littler things than run the nature reserve. It's a figwort weevil, and it is one of several invertebrates photographed on the reserve recently by Mal Delamare, and shared on our Flickr page. Close-up photographs shared here are really helpful to us - in fact, Mal's pictures have enabled us to add a couple of new species to the reserve list this week! And yesterday while we were doing some survey work, Julian snapped a longhorn beetle that turned out to be Rutpela maculata and appears to be the first record for the western half of Denbighshire.
Conwy reserve is in its 21st year (since we opened), so there are still new things to find here. If you find something, don't assume we already know about it! We will be searching hard for all the things that buzz, crawl, bloom, flit and slither next weekend (2/3 July) in our Big Nature Count, a Bioblitz of the reserve in partnership with Cofnod. Why not come down and help us; you might find something we've never see before, and it's a great way to learn from the experts.
This week has seen lots of interest in our orchids, especially the bee orchids and southern marsh orchids, although the latter are starting to go past their best. Visitors have spotted five different bumblebee species, and ringlet butterflies have emerged en masse, with lots here in yesterday's sunshine. The stoat family on the estuary have been hard to spot this summer, but a few patient watchers have seen an adult and up to five young kits.
A green sandpiper yesterday (23rd) is the first of the autumn passage, and we've noticed a few redshanks (around a dozen) and curlews (up to 30) here this week, all signs of southbound migration. There are lots of young birds around at the moment, especially sedge warblers, which seem to be having an excellent breeding season. A kingfisher was seen this morning (24th) and a water rail reported on Monday (20th) were the first reported for a while.
If you're reading this, I'm assuming that you love nature; well, at least that you're interested and enjoy it, whether it's watching from your kitchen window or out on a nature reserve. But can you remember what sparked that interest? Most of us, especially if we got the 'bug' when we were young, had the interest sparked by someone. Someone who simply enjoyed pointing it out, and sharing their knowledge. But we remember that someone.
In my case, it was my Grandpa. He wouldn't have claimed to be a birder, but he enjoyed the sounds of the saltmarsh when he took his dog for a walk along the Dee Estuary - the alarm call of the redshanks, the "one-two-three, testing" song of the reed bunting, the distant flocks of teal. And when I was six, seven, eight years old and staying with my grandparents in the school holidays, I would go along with him, and that's what got me started.
That I stayed with it, and am still learning, is thanks to a second person, Denis Pithon, who volunteered as an RSPB youth leader (in the days of the Young Ornithologists' Club), and set up a group for nature-minded youngsters when I was about 11 years old. I was very lucky. My life, immersed in nature, is thanks to formative experiences with these two people who took time to share their enthusiasm for wildlife.
And that's why I am passionate about giving people the opportunity to explore and discover wildlife. From the nature reserve's inception, since the day we opened the car park gates 21 years ago, RSPB Conwy has been about enabling visitors to have that connection, whether children visiting with their school, or families coming to enjoy their leisure time.
Our volunteers do an amazing job. They give up their time to help us manage the reserve, meet visitors, run the shop, support our learning and events programmes, and show people wildlife, mostly from the viewing hides. We really couldn't do what we do without them.
Of course, lots of the wildlife here isn't seen from the hides. Especially in Spring and Summer, it's the littler things that can make you go 'wow': an ant's nest, damselflies on the pond, a field of orchids. We've long had an ambition to help visitors discover these little beauties: "Pop-up" guides who focus attention on a different nature feature each weekend or school holiday.
We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is helping us to bring our natural heritage to life. Over the next two years, HLF money will help us add new interpretation to the reserve (more on that another time), and more importantly, enabling us to recruit and train a new tranche of volunteers who want to share their love for and knowledge of wildlife.
Of course, volunteers do what they do not just because they want to help a cause they love, but because they get great personal satisfaction from the time they spend volunteering. Over recent weeks, it has been wonderful to see BBC Springwatch showcase some of these heroes and encourage us all to #DoSomethingGreat.
We have created a new role at Conwy, called a Wild About Nature Volunteer. We are now recruiting for this role, and would love to hear from people who can give us three to six hours each week. If you're the sort of person who has the confidence to strike up conversations with visitors, has some knowledge about wildlife, but most important of all, a friendly enthusiastic approach, we'd love to hear from you. All the details are on our website.
There really is nothing better than seeing a child's eyes light up as they discover how incredible nature is; or a regular visitor be surprised when you point out something that they'd never noticed before. Who knows, you might be sparking an interest that will last a lifetime, and perhaps in 40 years, they will fondly recall the day at Conwy when nature lit up their life.
It's been all about the orchids this week, as we conducted our annual count - which takes longer each year as they pop up in new places and in greater numbers! Did you know that the collective noun for orchids is a coterie? No, I didn't either.
We have five species here, and most seem to be doing very well. When I started here in 2008, there was just a single patch of a couple of dozen bee orchids along the estuary. Last year we counted 220, so the total has almost doubled. Southern marsh orchids are doing even better, going from a few dozen spikes to more than 2,500; we are one of only a handful of places in North Wales with this species, and the only one between Wrexham and Bangor. Finally, early marsh orchids (which are not very early here!) are also doing well, and again Conwy is one of only a couple of sites in North Wales with this darker coccinea form.
The reserve is a riot of colour with other flowers too - check out our recent blog that shows which species to look out for this month.
Bird-wise, the focus is on the breeding species, and the warm, slightly humid, weather has been ideal for insects and therefore adults foraging for their young. The reserve is full of noisy fledglings: dunnocks, reed buntings, whitethroats, blackcaps, long-tailed tits and many more. On the water, our brood of gadwall chicks is growing up, and it's great that 10 of the original 11 have survived. There are young mallards and Canada geese of various sizes, plus the mute swan cygnets and great-crested grebelets on the Shallow lagoon; the little grebe brood has fledged, and we think the whole family has already left.
The male pochard that arrived a couple of weeks ago looks like it may stay for the Summer, while teal numbers are building slowly, as are curlews on the estuary, which are returning from their breeding grounds (there were 15 this morning). Surprise birds of the week were a hooded crow on Sunday (only the second reserve record), four Sandwich terns on Monday (13th) and a stock dove today (a tricky bird to see here).
Volunteers Rob and Ruth, who do a weekly invertebrate survey, recorded common blue and blue-tailed damselflies, emperor, four-spotted and broad-bodied chaser; speckled wood, small tortoiseshell, common blue and large white butterflies, and five bumblebee species, including tree bumblebee. We saw quite a number of painted lady butterflies and cinnabar moths when we were counting orchids at the weekend, plus the first silver-Y moth of the year. A black-tailed skimmer dragonfly last Wednesday (8th) was the first here for a while, and we also spotted ragged robin in flower near the dipping pond, and amazingly that was the first reserve record.