It's a great time of year to be out on the reserve. The ground is a blaze of floral colour, and there are lots of young birds, starting out on a new life.
Each morning, more fledglings leave their nests, and take their first flights. After a few days, they're pretty confident and the willow trees are full of squeaking tits, finches and warblers. On the water, our pairs of great crested grebes and mute swans have one and two chicks respectively, each now a few weeks old, and hopefully past the biggest risk of becoming someone else's lunch. Several broods of tufted ducklings and mallard ducklings are on the water too, though it's sometimes difficult to count the number of tufty chicks as these little brown balls of feather are constantly bobbing down beneath the surface to feed - thanks to Chris White for uploading the photo to our Flickr page. Look out for tiny moorhen chicks too if you're here over the weekend - the Tal-y-fan Hide, The LookOut and Coffee Shop are the best vantage points.
We fear, however, that we have lost our brood of little grebes. There were three chicks, about a fortnight old, but we haven't seen them since last Saturday, though at least one parent bird is still around. Fingers crossed that they're just hiding in a reedbed channel, out of sight. Better news, however, from the islands in the Deep Lagoon where at least two of the three common sandpiper chicks are growing nicely, best viewed from the Carneddau Hide.
We're starting to see an increase in wader numbers. Redshanks, for example, have gone from just a couple of birds to around 80 in just a few days, including lots of juveniles, which means they've had a good breeding season somewhere and are now ready to move south for the winter (yes, I did just use that word). A green sandpiper has been seen daily since Wednesday (24th), usually on the Shallow Lagoon, and a local resident reports an avocet on the estuary on Thursday evening (25th), but we haven't seen it yet today.
A nuthatch was a rare sighting on the reserve, among tits in the trees at the Glan Conwy end of the reserve on Tuesday (23rd), close to where a couple of grey wagtails have been regularly in the Afon Ganol. Easier to see are the bee orchids, which number around 200, and should remain in flower for another 10 days or so. The southern marsh orchids, of which we have counted more than 1000, are coming to the end of their season however.
Better weather means there are more dragonflies and butterflies on the wing: common blues of both families, and broad-bodied chaser are among the sightings this week. We are hosting a Bumblebee Identification course here on 5 July, organized by our friends at Cofnod, the North Wales Environmental Information Service. If you'd like to book, and then contribute your sightings to national monitoring schemes, see their website.
Finally, you may wonder why there are diggers, safety barriers and the occasional concrete mixer at the Glan Conwy end of the estuary path. Natural Resources Wales are repairing the sea wall between the Conwy Valley railway and the reserve footpath. It involves digging a large hole, building a new concrete barrier to stop tidal water entering the Afon Ganol, and then replacing the stones. The work should be complete by 3 July, and the trails will remain open throughout.
Twenty-three years ago, when the first warden Dave Elliott, stood on the bare mud that would open to visitors just three years later, could he have imagined what an amazing home for all sorts of nature RSPB Conwy would become? "It looked like the moon," he says, describing the three million tonnes of mud from the estuary that he needed to turn into a great place for wildlife.
This week, I stood on the footpath near the new(ish) Vardre Viewpoint: a sedge warbler carried insects into a nest hidden in the reeds that we planted just a couple of years ago, a lesser redpoll called softly as it dropped into a small tree (are they nesting here, we wonder?), and in the wet ground, dozens of pink flowers were emerging from the ground: orchids. Just brilliant - the reserve looks amazing at the moment with so many colourful flowers.
I started to count the orchids, and within 15 minutes had counted over 1000 southern marsh orchids; there was also an early marsh orchid, and scattered around the reserve are several dozen bee orchids. A visitor reported in our sightings book that they had spotted northern marsh orchid too; we'd love more details, as that species hasn't been previously recorded here - please get in touch if you've seen them here.
Another visitor, Graham Mathieson, has been taking lots of flower photos while he's been walking the reserve trails, and this week photographed this goat's-beard, a flower that we don't see often, but has been identified here previously. We always love to see your photos, and thanks to those who share them on Flickr, enabling us to use them on our blogs and social media.
This morning, we saw the first green sandpiper of the season, a sign of southbound autumn migration. I hesitate to use the word 'autumn' when we've not yet passed the summer solstice, and have only so far managed three days of a Welsh summer since April. But for birds, once their breeding season is over, it's a race back to their winter quarters, or a stop-off somewhere safe that they can moult their feathers. This week, we have seen pochards, shovelers and teal on the lagoons, none of which breed here, so also on their autumn journeys.
We also have several hundred Canada geese that have arrived from other wetlands in North Wales to moult their feathers, and among them a few greylag geese and a bar-headed goose, which is an annual visitor here each summer, but of feral origin. Also presumed to be of feral origin (i.e. its predecessors escaped, but they now live in the wild) were a family party of snow geese here briefly on Saturday (6th)
Meanwhile, our warblers are busy feeding their young, the great crested grebe chick is now too big to hitch a ride on Mum's back, and there are at least two, perhaps three, little grebe chicks also on the Shallow Lagoon.
Lots of people have been asking about our stoats, but we have only had a few sightings this week, and none recently of any family groups. We'll post news on Twitter and Facebook if that changes.
There have been plenty of insects flying in the warmer weather, with common blue butterflies especially abundant this year. We've also had a few azure damselflies on the ponds this week, and large red damselflies too.
To celebrate our 20th anniversary, we have a few special events lined up over the summer. The first is a performance by Kate Doubleday and her folk band, who are playing in The LookOut on Friday 26 June as part of the Flutter tour - there are a limited number of tickets available, so please give us a ring soon to get yours. The other is our big birthday bash, on the weekend of 25/26 July - we have lots of things lined up, which we'll be revealing over the next few weeks, so make a date in your diary to come and join the fun.
There are birds everywhere: lots rearing chicks, some already fledged, and some parents already sitting on their second clutch of eggs.
We were delighted to see a brood of four little grebes here this week, the first here for several years. Tiny little stripy balls of fluff, their dedicated parents are catching lots of small fish in the Shallow Lagoon to feed to them. They are staying close to the reeds, into which they can quickly dive if an aerial predator heads their way.
Last weekend, several visitors watched as a lesser black-backed gull picked an adult little grebe (from a different pair) out of the water and took it onto one of the islands, ready to gulp. A pair of coots and an oystercatcher nearby, both with nests or chicks, weren't happy with the gull's presence, flew noisily at the big bird, allowing the little grebe to break free, and plop back into the water, presumably with a headache but apparently otherwise unharmed.
The great crested grebes, which hatched two young almost three weeks ago, lost one chick early on, but the surviving chick is now pretty big - but it doesn't stop it climbing on the back of mum, almost sinking her in the process! The mute swans also lost one of their cygnets this week, but two remain, and are now a couple of weeks old.
Away from the lagoons, three of our brood of boisterous house sparrows fledged from the nestbox with a nestcam bringing a live feed into the Visitor Centre. Sadly, one chick died, and we removed that from the box on Monday. By Thursday, the parent birds were back in the box and another four eggs have now been laid. Pop into the Visitor Centre over the next few weeks to see how they get on.
Warmer weather has finally encouraged some other wildlife to wake up, mate and lay eggs. Lots of common blue butterflies are on the wing, with peacock and green-veined whites also spotted. Our first damselflies are out too: large red, blue-tailed and common blue - the shallow ponds near the Carneddau Hide have been the best places to look. The Bridge Pond is alive with fish, mostly sticklebacks, but also freshwater shrimps, and several visitors have reported a large eel in there - this may explain why we haven't seen many damselflies here this year!
Scarcer visitors this week include a black-tailed godwit today (5th), redstart yesterday, up to four pochards and a goosander (unseasonal for here), white wagtail (1st), sanderling (30th), wheatear (29th),and Sandwich tern (29th)
The first bee orchids are in flower - will we have as many as last year, when we counted almost 400? The first ones have popped up near the Afon Ganol, at the south end of the reserve. Look out too for house martins collecting mud from the estuary to build their nests, and lots of young starlings feeding on the saltmarsh. Finally, visitors today reported a family of seven stoats on the estuary path, so expect more sightings in the next couple of weeks.