You can't have failed to notice that the bushes are weighed down with berries this year. The good spring, followed by a warm and damp (but not soaking) summer created prime conditions, and the blackberries are especially abundant. Some days have brought lots of blackbirds to feast on them, whereas this morning, the robins were dominant. These aren't all resident birds on the reserve, but how far have they come? We can't really know, but sightings of redwings and fieldfares elsewhere in the Conwy Valley this week indicate that at least some of our blackberry-munchers have come from Scandinavia. Thanks to Alun Williams for the fine photo.
(By the way, you're welcome to collect blackberries from the reserve, but do stick to the paths and leave some for the thrushes!)
On the lagoons, the many weeks of dry weather (just 4mm of rain in September) mean that water levels are low. It doesn't bother the teal, though, and there's been a garganey on the Shallow Lagoon since 11th, although it seems to favour early mornings and evenings. Wigeon numbers have increased to several hundred, and a female scaup has been feeding intermittently on the Deep Lagoon.
We've had plenty of waders visiting the lagoons this week: sanderling on several dates (a scarce bird here), up to nine greenshanks, knot, ruff, curlew sandpiper and spotted redshank. Over 40 black-tailed godwits are feeding on the muddy Deep Lagoon as the water levels fall. A kingfisher has been seen regularly, and jays are almost daily - there has been a big influx from the continent in the last couple of weeks, with thousands in eastern England.
A merlin was reported a couple of times this week, another autumn/winter visitor. By contrast, most of the summer visitors have left. Chiffchaffs and a few blackcaps still sing in the extended summer weather, a reed warbler was heard on Monday (22nd), and house martins have been seen a few times this week.
The fine weather has been fantastic for insects, with lots of common darter dragonflies sunning themselves on the handrail over the Bridge Pond, a few migrant hawkers seeking muddy pond edges in which to lay their eggs, speckled wood and red admiral butterflies are still on the wing, and we've spotted several tree bumblebees too, a species that is a fairly recent colonist to North Wales. This settled weather won't last forever, so come and enjoy it while you can.
Chris Lusted from our shop is passionate about helping people to see wildlife, so he has helped to organise our first Binocular and Telescope Day in The LookOut on Sunday 5 October. He’s written a blog to highlight how optical technology has improved in recent years.
Our event is a great opportunity to try out our range of great quality optics and compare them to the very best on the market. You may be surprised how much binocular and telescope technology has moved on over the past few years, giving us brighter, sharper images, shorter close-focusing along with better handling and great value.
I recently changed my own binoculars due to changes in my own eyesight. Having been fortunate to have very good sight until my mid-fifties, slow changes mean I now use reading glasses. I was starting to find that my long-standing binoculars were not so easy to use.
I spent a few days trying different models to find the best that suited me. I finally got together three models that I liked and made my final choice over a couple of hours side-by-side use. I ended up choosing a model that I hadn’t expected to. So if you haven’t tried a new pair of binoculars or telescope recently, call in and try some out; you may be as surprised!
Our Avocet and Puffin binoculars come in 8x30, 8x42 and 10x42 models offering great value and performance in the £55-£135 price range. Our HDX range are a serious challenge in optical quality to high-end binoculars, but at about one-third of the cost. If you are looking for a quality compact binocular, try the incredible Swarovski Pocket CL range in 8x25 and 10x25 models; these have become a firm favourite among our customers.
Do you need something to view over longer distances? A telescope, with its higher magnification range, would be worth a look. Available in various packages of a RSPB AG body, eyepiece (fixed or zoom), stay-on case and tripod, they are ready to go from just £249. The different options will be available on the day for a direct comparison. Our HD scope offers the latest technology with ED glass, magnesium alloy body, coarse and fine focus controls along with a superb 25-50x zoom eyepiece, again a serious contender to high-end scopes.
We have experienced staff and volunteers, who are binocular and telescope users, able to guide you in your choice. As we are all different and have different viewing needs, we can help you choose the right binocular or telescope.
We look forward to seeing you and to give you the opportunity to try out equipment ‘in the field’ - not down a high street or across a showroom. Don’t forget buying over the internet does not give that valuable hand on experience of a range of equipment. And, remember, that all profits from RSPB shops go straight into our conservation work, giving nature a home.
Our Binocular and Telescope event is on Sunday 5 October, 10am-4pm. If you can’t make it here that day, we are open seven days a week, and you can book an optics adviser for an hour – please ring us on 01492 584091.
September is always a fruitful month. Fruitful because the reserve is rich in the autumn fruits, with blackberries and rosehips especially plentiful this year. and fruitful because autumn migration peaks, with lots of birds heading south - some departing, others arriving.
There have been lots of waders this week, feeding on the muddy edges around the lagoons. The Shallow Lagoon, and the muddy margin in front of the Benarth Hide have been particularly good. Two spotted redshanks have been since Monday (8th), and are still present today. Up to six little stints have been here, with one still here today, smaller even than the dunlins. A couple of curlew sandpipers have been here since Friday (12th). And add to that knot (today), a garganey (Thursday 11th to Saturday 13th) and increasing numbers of snipe and wigeon, it really has been a great week to go birding on the reserve.
Some migrating birds are making smaller, local movements. Often, these are the changes we understand the least. For example, a Cetti's warbler was found here this morning. This is a skulking bird of the scrub, usually found near water. It's unusual among warblers in that it's a resident bird (apart from Dartford warbler and a few chiffchaffs, most of the rest of the family head south in autumn). But Cetti's warbler is not resident at Conwy, and it's been recorded fewer than 10 times since the reserve was created. The nearest breeding birds are at wetlands in Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula, but could this have come even farther?
There are plenty of chiffchaffs here at the moment, some singing as though it's spring, and over the last few days, garden warbler, sand martin and wheatear have all been spotted. Will these be the last of the year? Blackcap, reed and sedge warbler are still here too, and should stay on for another week or more.
Grey wagtails have been more prominent recently, seen daily, and a couple of kingfishers have been bombing around the lagoons and the estuary. We're hoping that both are back here for the winter. Likewise, water rails are being seen more frequently - check the reedy edges of the lagoons. A firecrest was near the entrance gate on Saturday (6th), but wasn't seen again, while a stoat on the estuary track this morning was the first sighting for a while.
The warm weather has brought out butterflies and dragonflies: speckled wood, red admiral and small copper, and we also received nice photos of black darters, a dragonfly of boggy pools, taken here at the end of August. It's only the second time they have been recorded here - where did they come from?