It's been a busy few weeks for the team, as we're working hard to complete everything by the end of July, in order to meet our funding deadlines. So, here's a quick update on how everything is going:
Car park: you'll know that we made some considerable improvements to the car park last autumn, but we didn't have sufficient funding to resurface the whole area as we had hoped. Now, thanks to the support and flexibility of the major funders, the Communities and Nature project, we are going to improve the part of the car park nearest the entrance. When finished, there will be tarmac in and out routes and a coach parking area. The car parking bays will be gravel. The finish won't be quite as high spec as the first part, because we can't afford it, but it will be a major improvement and there'll be fewer potholes in the winter! (our hard-working volunteers who fill the potholes regularly are particularly delighted). The work starts on Monday 17 June and will take place all week, so there will be some restrictions on parking, but we will be open as usual (except on Thursday 20th when we won't open until 10 am). Please follow on-site directions.
The LookOut: we rendered all of the outside walls with lime this week, and we've started rendering the interior with clay. The joiners also completed the floor, and we ordered the windows and the flooring, so we're hoping to be completed by the summer holidays. We'll do another photodiary next week if we can get our rubber gloves off!
Tal-y-fan Hide: what do you think of the mural? We're delighted with it, and love what local artist Richard Hackett has done to brighten up the inside of the hide. And have you looked up? There are birds on the ceiling too! The finishing touch was going to be a stunning new floor, based on an aerial photograph of the Conwy Valley. We ordered it in February, and despite reassurances from the manufacturers that it would be with us "next week", that week never arrived, and we have reluctantly had to cancel the order. We are really disappointed, but we will be replacing the existing flooring in the right-hand side of Tal-y-fan Hide in July, which means it will be closed for a couple of days.
Y Maes: the dry weather (yes, it has been a pretty dry spring here) has slowed the growth of the grass, so we still haven't opened up the central area of Y Maes, but we're hoping we might in a couple of weeks. Next Saturday (22nd), members of the reserve's Wildlife Explorers Group are going to paint the inside of the tunnel, so that you can walk through an underground wilderness. They'll be working with graffiti artist Dime One - it's going to be fab! We've also commissioned local sculptor Mike Owens to create a wooden bench, inspired by birds at the reserve, and in the next few weeks we will be completing the turfing and wooden log seating around the playspace. Artist Richard Hackett also kindly painted the eyes of Tegi, our earth monster, and the result is a vivid splash of colour as Tegi's coat turns green.
New viewpoint: we've built a new viewing screen at the south end of the reserve, to overlook the islands in the Deep Lagoon, and we've created a new footpath from the Ganol Trail. We didn't open it during the breeding season because Lapwings were nesting close by and the reed screen hadn't yet grown enough to hide people from the birds. But we can now announce that it will be called The Vardre Viewpoint; all the hides and viewpoints at Conwy are named after the hills and mountains you can see from the reserve. The Vardre is the hill in Deganwy that has two rocky summits and was once the fortified castle of Maelgwn Gwynedd, one of the most powerful kings of the 6th century. We expect to open the viewpoint in a couple of weeks, and it'll open up new views of the reserve and its wildlife that we've never had before.
New entrance artwork: this will be the very final piece of the project, which will be installed in July. We're keeping it under wraps for now, but it will be placed by the reserve's welcome sign next to the roundabout. On a sunny morning in early June, some of us went to see it being created and we were, frankly, blown away. You'll certainly know that you've arrived at a place that is giving nature a home.
Finally, put Saturday 31 August in your diary, as we open up the reserve for a Discovery Day, to celebrate the completion of the Conwy Connections project. More details here as we think of them!
I'm ready to be shouted down, but for nature, autumn has already arrived. Of course, birds don't see the seasons as we do, but most wildlife in the temperate northern hemisphere rears its young in the spring and early summer, and then they either moult their feathers or start their southbound migration. If birds fail to breed for any reason, they'll start their migration sooner, and that's what we're seeing at the moment. There are several teal here, a pair of shovelers and a small number of curlews, that have probably come from elsewhere in Britain, while the black-tailed godwits will be travelling back from Iceland. All these are birds that we'd expect to see here from mid June onwards. A female wigeon on Monday (10th) and Thursday (13th) was unusual for the time of year, as was a wheatear on Sunday (9th)
More unexpected was a male common scoter that flew in on Wednesday during a guided walk for the local U3A group, a bird that should be up in Scotland or the Arctic at this time of year, and are unusual on the lagoons at any time. This came on the tail of two avocets that were here on Thursday (6th), but they moved on after just a day. Sandwich terns were seen on Friday (7th) and Sunday (9th) and at least one snipe seems to be over-summering.
Meanwhile, there are chicks at various stages of fledging around the reserve, including lesser whitethroats, willow warblers, moorhens and mallards. A few broods of Canada geese are growing up, but a lot more adults have arrived from other sites in North Wales, and will probably stay to moult here over the summer. A few greylag geese are with them, as is a snow goose and a bar-headed goose, but the latter two are unlikely to be wild!
This is usually 'stoat time', when the young kits start to explore the reserve, but like everything else this year, they're a bit late, though adults have been seen at various places around the reserve, particularly near the Afon Ganol (though a large male mink was also photographed there this week). Our bee orchids are also a bit late, but they have started to flower this week - ask at the Visitor Centre for details, and if you want to photograph them, please make sure you don't crush newly-emerging ones in the process! There are marsh orchids in flower along the wet bits of the Ganol Trail too.
Check the ponds for huge numbers of azure and common blue damsleflies, and broad-bodied chaser dragonflies, and common blue butterflies have been seen daily. It's great to see lots of bumblebees nectaring on the abundant flowers, but I'm going to have to get the book out to identify them. If you know your bees, do tell us what you're seeing.
Sorry we've been a bit tardy updating the website with sightings recently. We've been working full-on to complete The LookOut and the other improvements as part of Conwy Connections, but we do report sightings on our Twitter account much more frequently (over 5000 times so far!).
Our project to create an eco-building, The LookOut, took another two leaps forward last week: the roof was completed and we put the last bales of straw into the walls and the floor. But we're not finished yet!
To recap the story so far (a bit like a documentary that thinks you don't have the attention span to follow the plot between the ad breaks): in early May, we stuffed the roof with 90 bales of straw and four tonnes of clay (see Part I photodiary); then we prepared dozens more bales and built the walls of The LookOut (see Part II photodiary). We had to leave the walls for a couple of weeks while the roof settled into position on top of the straw bales. The weight of the roof compressed the straw by a further 4 cm, and they're now solid. Thanks to Conrad, our chainsaw-wielding warden from Anglesey, all of the walls were trimmed last week, giving us a reasonably flat surface to which we can apply the render, both inside and out.
In the meantime, work could continue on the roof. After we had filled it with straw and clay, the joiners had put birch plywood over the top, to give the distinctive curved look that we want. It looked lovely, but it's not waterproof, and so we have been living with a rather unsightly tarpaulin tied to the roof for the last few weeks. Last week, protective rubber was bonded to the plywood and the gutters installed, so that when it rains, nothing will leak into the straw. The LookOut has been designed so that we can have a green turf roof, but we don't have the money to do that as part of this project, so the rubber coating will be fine until we can afford to add the turf.
I'll be truthful, I was a bit worried about how it would look. Would it look like the roof of a factory plonked in the nature reserve? Well, actually, no. Because it reflects the sky, its colour changes according to the mood of the weather, a bit like the sea. We think it's fine - what do you think?
The next task was to finish the floor. The joiners created a grid of wooden joists that were just the right size for us to stuff sections of straw bales into. Compared to the rest of the straw building, this was pretty easy. Four of us completed it in a few hours, meaning that when you stand in the finished building, there'll be straw above you, around you and below you, making it lovely and snug in cool weather. The joiners will fix plywood over the straw-fill to complete the floor.
Just before we finished the floor, we added the time capsule, the contents of which were suggested and donated by volunteers, staff and visitors to the reserve, many by our friends on Facebook and Twitter (for more on what's in the time capsule, see this blog). We haven't set a date for the capsule to be opened, and it will only be found if the floor of the building is taken up.
The final job was to complete the wall along the front of the building. Although most of the front will be glazed, there is a small section made of straw. This proved to be the most awkward part of the whole build and took us several hours on Friday evening. Each bale has to be cut to size and cut to fit the various pieces of timber that hold the front together. Have you ever tried sawing straw? It's not easy! 'Cutting' proved to be a mix of using the saw and hand-pulling bits of straw that refused to be chopped, while making sure we didn't cut through the twine that held the bale together.
And so, this was the last straw. Typically, the last bit we needed wasn't the size and shape of a whole bale, or even half a bale, so we had to make up a special bale that was just the right size by using a patent-designed needle (tomato cane) and thread (baler twine). Apologies that Laura and Alastair look a bit blue in the picture; it was far from cold, but we'd dropped the blue tarpaulin to protect the straw before we finished it.
So, the latest stage of The LookOut is complete. This week, the joiners will finish the floor and we'll start work on the rendering. We're being trained how to apply it on Monday. There'll be lime render on the outside and clay render on the inside, but it'll require several coats and we have to leave 10 days between each. And then there is some painting to do. The big question is when will we finish it? We're hoping that by the start of the school summer holidays, you'll be able to come and use The LookOut.
Did you see the Conwy Connections film we launch last month? Don’t worry if you missed it. Here it is again for you to enjoy! But first, let me introduce the important people behind the film-making to you.
When the makeover started back in October, we thought it would be great to document the whole redevelopments on camera and show it on big screen in the big launch day on 31st August. But, we couldn’t wait until then to show it to you, so here is a sneaky-preview of the film, which captures the first half of the work. The film contract was awarded to a local production company based in Old Colwyn, Tape Community and Film, and we couldn’t have asked for a better team to work on this.
Tape crew are made up of three Jons, Andrew, Maxine, Neil and Steve, all local to the Conwy reserve. They have taken a genuine interest in Conwy Connections. It has been great having them on the reserve filming and interviewing staff and contractors, settinmg up time-lapse cameras and getting some feedback (all positive!) from volunteers and visitors.
A member of the crew, Maxine said that she never expected to enjoy working on this project as much as she has done:
“I can honestly say before we started filming at the RSPB, I knew nothing about birds; I didn't realise how enjoyable it is to actually be outside meeting and talking to people who know about birds. I could understand why children might have found it hard to hold their interest but I think the refurbishment will draw in many more people especially families.”
I also caught up with Neil, one of Tape’s Directors, and asked him what he thinks of the project so far:
“It’s a really great opportunity for a group to be involved in documenting such a picturesque site as it changes and develops. Staff and visitors to the site have been incredibly supportive of the filming and generously given up their time to support the project.”
A big thank you goes out to the Tape crew. They really have gone the extra mile to make sure that we capture every exciting move on film!
Here they all are, filming on top of the hillock back in March!
We are also extremely proud of our two young presenters: Efa Fitzgerald, 9yrs, from Denbigh and Peter Jenkins, 8yrs, from Holyhead who’s 8 years old. We had a fantastic filming day with them back in March. They told me that they have never presented before...but I just don’t believe them! All I can say is, Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, eat your hearts out!!
The next Conwy Connections film, will be out mid July and a we will show the final film on a big screen at the RSPB Conwy Discovery Day on Saturday, 31 August.
Watch the film!
MudMag is a Conwy Connections newsletter specially written for our younger visitors. But you're never to old to enjoy MudMag, so have a read! A printed copy is available at our Visitor Centre on the reserve.
The next edition, and the last one, will be out mid-summer.