Late August is an 'anything can happen' time, as both songbirds and waders drop in to rest and feed up as they travel from north to south, on their global journey, for which our geo-political boundaries mean little. Their home at Conwy may only be for a few days, but it's just as important to their survival as the places they nest farther north and the vast habitats in Africa where they will spend the northern winter.
The muddy edges of the lagoons are the place to look for shorebirds, and this week's highlights include green sandpiper, up to 20 black-tailed godwits and 35 dunlins (most days), ruff and ringed plover (Sunday 23rd), whimbrel (daily until Tuesday 18th), greenshank, knot and snipe (until Friday 14th), and an occasional common sandpiper. Up to 90 little egrets have been feeding on the estuary this week, while three Sandwich terns were a surprise addition to the monthly Wetland Bird Survey (on Sunday 16th) and a Mediterranean gull was a bonus on Friday (14th).
The smaller birds require a little more patience, but do check out the roving flocks of long-tailed and blue tits in the scrub, as they often include warblers such as chiffchaff and blackcap among them. We've seen more lesser whitethroats over the weekend, and it's been a good autumn for redstarts, with one or two on several dates over the last couple of weeks. Other highlights include spotted flycatcher and stock dove (Sunday 23rd) and stonechat (Sunday 16th), but perhaps bird of the week was a hobby on Friday evening (14th), a scarce visitor to our part of North Wales.
Although swifts left their local nesting sites a couple of weeks ago, we are still recording small numbers each day on the reserve. There was one here today, but will that be the last? Kingfisher has been seen almost daily in the last fortnight, and is looking settled for the winter, though it can still be hard to spot.
During the summer, mallard and tufted duck (both of which breed) are often the only ducks on show, though we've had small numbers of teal for most of the summer and a couple of wigeons too. Today, three more wigeons appeared on the estuary, almost certainly the first of autumn proper, as well as six goosanders, another sign of birds dispersing away from their breeding sites. A female pochard has been on the Deep Lagoon for a couple of days, the first to arrive from Russia.
There are lots of butterflies: nine species in a couple of hours this morning, including peacock, comma and small copper. There are six-spot burnet moths that are still on the wing, and other day-flying moths include shaded broad-bar and treble-bar.
This week's unsettled weather may not be great if you hoped for a sunny day on the beach or a hike in the mountains, but it may be just perfect for dropping migrant birds into unexpected places. Come and see what you can find!
PS. We just noticed that our last blog was our 200th - thank you to all our readers. If you're on social media, please do share them with your friends and followers.
It's starting to feel a bit like autumn, isn't it? Sunrise is that bit later, it's getting dark by 9.30pm, and there's a dew on the grass in the mornings. Birds know that it's autumn too, and that's a time of change.
Some mornings this week, there have been lots of small birds in places you wouldn't expect: a sprinkling of young redstarts in the car park or along the trails; sedge and reed warblers in trees rather than reedbeds; lots of blackcaps in bushes that didn't have a nest, lesser whitethroats that have hardly been evident for many weeks. All these are signs that birds are moving south, some birds from farther north 'leap-frogging' the same species that are still feeding young in nests around the reserve. This morning, nuthatch and jay were along the footpath immediately north of the reserve entrance, an indication that our local woodland 'residents' are also dispersing after the breeding season.
As the water level drops, the lagoons are a magnet for waders, and you never know what will have arrived during the night. Visitors over recent days include knot, green sandpiper, little ringed plover, common sandpiper, up to 40 dunlins and several black-tailed godwits, including one wearing coloured leg-rings (from Iceland we guess, but we are waiting to hear). The mud in front of the boardwalk and Tal-y-fan Hide is looking perfect, though inevitably that means that there isn't a lot of water remaining in front of the Coffee Shop. Whimbrels are daily visitors too, but tend to stay on the estuary until the tide comes right in, when they roost with curlews on the islands.
There are still a few swifts feeding each morning; they will soon be on their way south, but the swallows and martins should be regular here for another six weeks. We had great views of a kingfisher this morning, perched at one point on the electric fence in front of Carneddau Hide!
August is a month in which anything can appear, though often briefly: a first-summer little gull was a great find among the black-headed gulls during the evening roost on Monday (10th), a whinchat and red kite were both seen on Sunday (9th); a spotted flycatcher was here on Saturday (8th), but that it's the first this year is a sad sign of their huge decline.
Stoats and weasels have been spotted on several dates this week, but the biggest mammal surprise was last Saturday morning (8th), when a brown hare was eating reeds on the lagoon edge outside the Coffee Shop; it's the first confirmed brown hare sighting here, though several have been claimed over the years.
Another new species for the reserve was hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria), which - as its name suggests - is a hoverfly that mimics a hornet. We don't see hornets at Conwy, which is why this was so obvious, nectaring on a flowering teasel in the wildlife garden. The second generation of common blue butterflies are on the wing, and there are still plenty of six-spot burnet moths. Look out, too, for gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies and the black-and-yellow striped caterpillars of cinnabar moths feeding on ragwort. We had an excellent Dragonflies and Damselflies walk last Saturday, with common darter, southern hawker, emperor, common blue and blue-tailed damselfly.
Last night, all over the UK, families spent the night under canvas, exploring the world at dusk, night and dawn. Some in their gardens, some on offshore islands, some on RSPB nature reserves. Here's what we did at RSPB Conwy.
Saturday, 6pm: Families arrived ready for their adventure, set up camp, and the fun started! Jayden gets to grips with an apple.
Saturday 8pm: Children completed challenges and the fire was lit - one marshmallow just wasn't enough for Emma
Saturday 9.30pm: With dusk upon us, bat detectors in hand, pipistrelles and noctules were heard and seen as we explored the trails by night. Big thank you to Cathy, Bev and Giles from Gwynedd Bat Group.
Saturday 10pm: Volunteer Bob set up the light traps and we saw some moths, but he told us we would see even more in the morning. Hot chocolate was on hand for all, before venturing into our tents for a few hours of sleep.
Sunday 6am: We explored the reserve on our dawn walk, where Charlie was happy to demonstrate his best frog face whilst perched in a suitable spot!
Sunday 8am: Bob was right. There were dozens of moths in his trap - Harry met a poplar hawkmoth
Sunday 8.30am: whilst we munched breakfast and drank coffee in the morning sunshine, William has his eye on the moths
Before we left, nine-year old Jayden shared his Big Wild Sleepout poem...
We came to Conwy to sleep the night,
Me and Phoebe had a pillow fight,
We saw bats and loads of moths as well,
We slept in a tent and had stories to tell.
We got up early to see the birds,
but Edward and Phoebe could not be heard!
I think they were still asleep...ha, ha, ha!
The Big Wild SleepOut was enjoyed by all. Wildlife was discovered, friends were made, and we want to do it all again!