Conwy

Conwy

Conwy
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  • To let: Available for immediate occupancy

    Cowslips (Colin Metcalfe)

    The next few weeks are very busy if you're a bird, animal or insect. The explosion of food that comes with warm weather mean that you have to find a mate, and a home, and plenty of food to bring up your young. We have seen lots of our resident birds, such as blackbirds and blue tits, carrying nest material, and over the last fortnight, the summer migrants have arrived, loudly marking the territories that they consider to have the right ingredients to raise a family. The RSPB provides the home, they have to do the rest themselves.

    This week has seen good numbers of sedge warblers arrive, and the first couple of reed warblers, so the sounds of Africa are growing louder in the reeds. Several lesser whitethroats are belting out their machine-gun rattle on bramble bushes, with the first common whitethroats here since yesterday (18th).  The migrants that arrived a few weeks ago, such as chiffchaff, blackcap and willow warblers, may already have found a mate and be starting to build nests, so they've gone a bit quieter.

    Out on the water, the first mallard ducklings and Canada goslings are afloat, while mute swans and great crested grebes are here, but yet to show any signs of nesting. Plenty of time yet though. Our weekly monitoring of breeding birds also found four lapwing nests, and there is a coot nesting right in front of The LookOut. Our water levels are high after the winter rain, so there are fewer places for migrant waders to drop in, but we had four common sandpipers this morning, little ringed plover on several days this week, greenshank, a couple of black-tailed godwits, and one or two whimbrels have been feeding on the estuary.

    A couple of visitors reported that Mother Stoat was carrying each young kit, a tiny ball of pink skin, the length of the estuary track one evening this week; they often move between dens while the kits are small, to reduce the risk of detection by predators. In another month, the young will start to explore above ground. Another visitor spotted a water shrew, not something we get to see often even though we know they're here.

    The warm sunny days have brought out the butterflies, with green-veined white, speckled wood, orange-tip, small tortoiseshell and peacock all on the wing. And the cowslips are in a fantastic display around the Coffee Shop.

    Passage migrants this week include a female redstart today (19th), several wheatears (six today), white wagtails daily (peak count 14 on 17th), and 10 greylag geese dropped in on Wednesday (16th). Bird of the week was a cuckoo, perched on one of the viewing screens on Monday (14th). Sadly, we usually only see a handful of these icons of spring each year, and they are rare in the lowlands of North Wales now.

    So, with 10 days of April to go, all of our regular summer visitors have been reported, with the exception of swift and garden warbler. The next few weeks are all-action for wildlife as everything that buzzes, tweets, flaps or crawls is busy with the breeding season.  Pop down and see how they're getting on.

  • Green is the colour

    Chiffchaff (Anthony Pope)

    For me, green is the colour of spring time, of blackthorn bushes bursting into leaf, the yellow flower-heads of the cowslips pushing through the green crown of leaves, and the first shoots of this year's reed growth poking their heads above the water's surface, amid the straw-coloured stems of last year's reeds.

    Of course, green is also the international symbol for 'go', and this week it seems that the traffic signals somewhere in southern Europe were switched on. The chiffchaffs were, as usual, first to arrive, with the first one seen on 8 March, and now there are more than a dozen singing around the reserve. Next came sand martins, with the first birds on 14 March, and small numbers of birds on most days since. Then came the first swallows, on the early date of 22 March and the first wheatear on 24 March - we've been surprised by how few wheatears have been seen, the second was only this morning.  Waders have also started to arrive, with the first little ringed plover today, and several black-tailed godwits too. With southeasterly winds over the next few days, we're hoping and expecting more arrivals this week. If the skies are clear, look up for ospreys - one flew over Llandudno Junction yesterday (28th), which almost certainly came over the reserve.

    Green is the colour of a female crossbill, and I was delighted to find one, and then a red male, perched in the top of an elder bush on the Ganol Trail on Monday morning (24th).  A few are heard flying over each year, but we think that these may have been the first to land on the reserve. These too are migrants, but moving within Britain or from the near-continent, back to their forest breeding habitats. Similarly, we've seen more meadow pipits, siskins and a red kite (Wed 26th), which may be a migrant.

    Green is the smart head colour of the shelduck, whose numbers are building up on the estuary and the lagoons - there have been over 50 some days.  They gather here before heading into the hills to nest, in an old rabbit burrow. Many of our other ducks are winter visitors, so they have been shipping out: we haven't seen a pochard for several weeks, we were down to just two goldeneyes by Thursday (27th) and both the overwintering female scaup have left, though the smart male is still on the deep lagoon.

    Green is the upperwing colour of the lapwings, which are now displaying regularly, alternately flashing the green and white as they tumble towards the ground. We only seem to have three, perhaps four, pairs this year, and our survey work through the spring will monitor their progress.  A great crested grebe has arrived on the deep lagoon, where a pair bred last year, so we're hoping for its mate to turn up soon.

    Within the green water of the ponds (okay, I'm struggling with this whole green thing now), the first tadpoles have emerged from the clumps of frogspawn. We've only had one real frost all winter, so hopefully the spawn and tadpoles will survive. The sunny days have been bringing more stoat sightings too, though with no discernible pattern: they've been seen along the estuary, around the wildlife garden and near the Coffee Shop, where hundreds of cowslips are flowering. We've not had many reports of butterflies, but small tortoiseshells do seem more abundant so far, which is great news as it's one of the species that has become scarcer.

    This is a great time to get outside and enjoy the amazing changes that nature gives us.  Time to stop reading this and go see!

  • Is this the last blog of winter?

    Tomorrow is St David's Day, our national day, and there seem to be plenty of daffodils already blooming in the Conwy Valley, which always signals to me that our spring is early. The hedgerows already have that faint hue of green that, if the weather remains mild, is a prelude to the blackthorn bursting into blossom over the coming weeks. With news of swallows and sand martins in southern Britain, it's easy to be impatient for spring to arrive, but let's take it slowly and enjoy one of the best times of the year.

    Here are a few signs of spring that we've noticed this week

    #1 Frogspawn: the children who came to Muddy Puddle Club on Tuesday had a great watery-themed time, and they spotted the first frogspawn in the pond while they were looking for underwater insects. It's the first time in four years that the pond hasn't frozen solid, so we hope that we don't get a late frost that jeopardises them transforming from eggs to tadpoles to frogs.

    #2 Lesser black-backed gulls: you might think of swallows or cuckoos as the portents of spring, but often the first returning migrants that we see at Conwy are lesser black-backed gulls. Unlike the resident herring gulls, the LBBs leave us in autumn and start to return in February. The British Trust for Ornithology have been tracking their travels from a breeding colony in Suffolk, demonstrating that some go to southern Spain and North Africa, and others stay closer to home (see here for the details and a feature about the project on BBC1's The One Show). We assume that Welsh-breeding birds do something similar, and now they're back.

    #3 Stonechats: again, you might think of stonechats as resident, but in fact about half Britain's breeding population heads south to Europe and North Africa; it's a sensible strategy: although the resident birds might be first to occupy the best territories following a mild winter, if the weather had been snowy and frozen, the stayers might have perished. As it is, the stonechats we've seen hear this week (up to four reported along the estuary) are probably birds that have wintered along the coast and are now starting to move back into the uplands.

    #4 Coltsfoot: this is a small yellow flower that is one of the first to appear at the sides of the trails - it's easy to mistake for a small dandelion. It's also known as butterbur or coughwort, because it supposedly had healing properties for colds and flu (but actually contains toxins, so don't put it in your tea). Being one of the first flowers to appear, it'll provide sustenance for the first bees - though we haven't spotted any yet.

    But March can be a deceptive month, and we - and nature - know that it can have a cold sting in its tail.

    Elsewhere on the reserve, our three scaup are still here, now in fine breeding plumage, but for how much longer? There are just a few goldeneyes and little grebes remaining, while a great crested grebe on the estuary was unusual - will a pair return here to nest, we wonder? A kestrel has been regularly hunting near the Coffee Shop, which is a bit unusual for here, and also notable are several sightings of rooks feeding on the pasture or perched in trees - we usually only see them flying over.  Lots of songbirds are tuning up, and it's a particular joy to hear many song thrushes - including one that is mimicking a chough, a bird that doesn't occur here regularly, so has the thrush moved here from somewhere along the coast?

    The weather forecast for this weekend looks okay, so celebrate St David's Day in the great Welsh outdoors.