It might seem odd to start this week's blog with news of what isn't here, but I thought it worth an explanation! There are relatively few ducks on the lagoons at the moment, and I was discussing this at the weekend with one of our volunteers, a retired meteorologist. He pointed me to this website, which shows the extent of the sea ice in the Baltic Sea in real time compared with the usual extent at this time of year. You'll see (at the time of writing) that the sea is several degrees warmer than usual, and that there is almost no ice at all.
That's important, because it's a stopover site for many of the waterbirds that visit Britain, and they'll only move westwards when impelled to do so by the ice, which makes it impossible to feed. It may be hundreds of miles away, but the numbers of birds wintering at Conwy partly depends on what is happening off the coast of Finland and Latvia. And the mild weather is eastern Europe also results in fewer Lapwings and Starlings making it this far west.
We do have some ducks, of course, small numbers of goldeneye and pochard, hundreds of teal and a few shovelers and gadwalls. Small flocks of redwings have roosted here each night, and around 2000 starlings, all having their origins to the east.
At least one firecrest has been seen regularly around the Bridge Pond, and at least one chiffchaff was still here today. Water rails are being heard regularly, and as we raise the water levels in the Shallow Lagoon (the one nearest to the Visitor Centre), they may become more visible. A couple of great crested grebes were in front of the Coffee Shop on Sunday, unusual here in the winter, and a kingfisher has been regular too. A blackcap was seen on Saturday (13th) and jack snipe and common sandpiper were seen last Tuesday (9th).
Lots of people have been phoning to check our opening times over Christmas. It's pretty straightforward: we're open every day except Christmas Day, and the only day we close early is Christmas Eve, when the Coffee Shop closes at 2pm and the Shop and Visitor Centre at 3pm. We have lots of events planned for Christmas Week, so if you're off work/school, why not join us - but don't forget to book!
The Bridge Pond has been the birding hotspot recently, with our two firecrests still regular throughout the week, several chiffchaffs (including one that looks 'interesting' as a potential visitor from Russia), and the Cetti's warbler, although it hasn't been seen since Monday (1st). But the surprise was a lone swallow at dusk on Sunday, surely our latest ever here.
Water rails have been regular around the Bridge Pond too, and in several other parts of the reserve, with visitors watching one flicking over dead leaves beneath the seed feeders in the Wildlife Garden, foraging for insects. Reed buntings have been more regular on the feeders this week, with several people commenting on their absence since early August. Where do they go in the autumn?
On the lagoons, up to 20 black-tailed godwits have been roosting at high tide, with larger numbers of redshanks, small numbers of dunlin and a single knot. On the water, small numbers of pochard, goldeneye and tufted duck are feeding, but with ice-free conditions across northern Europe, their numbers remain low. A kingfisher was outside the Coffee Shop on Thursday (4th) and small numbers of little egrets remain (in some winters, they leave altogether). A great white egret reported on Wednesday (3rd) would be only the second reserve record, but we have received no reports since.
So, what will be found here this weekend? You'll have to call in to find out!
The end of November, we have our Countdown to Christmas event on Sunday, and we have still barely had a frost.
But we know it must be Winter because a couple of firecrests have taken up annual residence. Both are females (judged by those who have studied the photographs), they tend to inhabit the bushes alongside the path between the Bridge Pond and Carneddau Hide. Following a week of silence, a blast from a Cetti's warbler this morning proved that he is still present around the Bridge Pond too. Water rails are scattered across the reserve - in front of the Coffee Shop, Tal-y-fan Hide and the Ganol Trail are all good places to look.
On the lagoons, small groups of pochards and shovelers are feeding, and two goldeneyes are also present. More mallards than usual are on the shallow lagoon, on which we are slowly raising the water level. A pair of ravens have been hogging a dead sheep that was washed up on the shoreline last week - a few magpies look on from nearby, trying to snatch some of the action when the ravens aren't looking. A kestrel over the car park this afternoon was the first here for a while, and kingfishers have been seen sporadically this week.
A great spotted woodpecker has been seen and heard regularly over the last couple of weeks, while a grey heron is regularly spotted in the wildlife garden at dawn and dusk - we're a bit mystified as to what it's feeding on, as they don't usually like landing in places from which they can't easily take off. Several chiffchaffs are still around the reserve, and a blackcap was seen on Sunday (23rd). Other scarce visitors include a yellow-legged gull (Wed 19th) and rock pipit (Tue 18th)
A snow bunting was photographed here last Saturday (22nd), and two were reported on Monday. A good count of dunlins (251) were on the estuary on Monday (24th), while the starling roost is around the 2000-bird mark. A great crested grebe has been seen a few times in the last 10 days, unusual visitors here in winter, while a stoat was by the Coffee Shop last Friday (21st), another animal that is hard to see at this time of year.